Inbox: Does Murphy have trade value?

Inbox: Does Murphy have trade value?

Inbox: Does Murphy have trade value?
All remains quiet for the Mets, who have spent the early part of their offseason feeling out the markets for Jose Reyes and relief pitching. The next two weeks should be telling for both, as talks for free agents typically begin to simmer just before the Winter Meetings.

The Mets did much of their offseason shopping at the Meetings last year, taking home two players and laying the groundwork for other deals. And this year may be no different, with general manager Sandy Alderson pursuing both bullpen help and starting pitching.

But let's not forget another market of intrigue as the Mets continue to search for creative roster solutions: the trade market. Forget, for a moment, the much-publicized prospect of trading David Wright. Consider instead the possibility of selling high and buying low. To wit:

Would it not make sense to trade Daniel Murphy? His age and contract should be worth a good return.
--Bill F., Bronx, N.Y.

Before getting to Murphy, it is worth noting how many of the emails I receive each week discuss potential trades of underperforming players. Trade Wright. Trade Mike Pelfrey. Trade Angel Pagan. And so on and so forth, often with unrealistic returns in mind.

It is rare that I receive trade suggestions regarding someone like Murphy, who arguably outperformed his abilities last summer before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Yes, Murphy was the National League's fifth-leading hitter at the time of his injury. But consider also that he compiled the NL's 12th-highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) -- an advanced metric used to estimate a player's luck -- amongst hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. At the time of his injury, Murphy was in the midst of a torrid 15-game streak that included an unsustainable .434 BABIP and, considering his overall success at the plate, a relatively low .500 slugging percentage.

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That's not to say Murphy is a bad hitter -- he was clearly squaring up balls with regularity, he clearly belongs in the Major Leagues, and Alderson clearly seems intrigued by his potential. It's just an admission that Murphy may not be quite as good as his early-summer stat line suggests. Recall that this is a player who was unable to beat out Brad Emaus for the starting second-base job last spring. This is a player without a natural defensive position. This is a player who, at age 27 come Opening Day, is not necessarily young. This is a player whom the Mets consider less valuable than first baseman Ike Davis, who possesses more power and a significantly better glove.

And that's not even considering the matter of money. Murphy will be arbitration-eligible for the first time after next season, meaning he will suddenly no longer be a bargain. Given all those factors, it may make sense to trade Murphy now, at the peak of his value, for a younger chip. Certainly, the Mets could receive significantly more for Murphy than they would have one year ago. Why not explore that market?

Alderson, for his part, has not ruled out trading anyone as he continues to reshape the Mets. So for all the talk of trading Wright this winter, Bill from the Bronx is right: it may make more sense at least to explore the prospect of dealing Murphy.

Who is out there that the Mets can get to fill out the back end of the rotation? Will we flirt with Jason Marquis again?
--Vincent S., Cobleskill, N.Y.

The Mets have indeed reportedly expressed some interest in Marquis, a Staten Island native who has been outspoken in the past about his desire to play in New York. And this may be the year that marriage finally occurs. Marquis, 33, is a free agent, while the Mets are interested in bolstering their rotation with a serviceable innings-eater. It makes sense.

Of course, the Mets will not offer Marquis anything close to the two-year, $15 million deal he signed with the Nationals two years ago -- part of the reason they are not looking to re-sign Chris Capuano is due to Capuano's desire for a multi-year contract. But if Marquis would be willing to accept a one-year offer at less than $5 million, I could see the Mets pursuing him.

If not, a host of other low-cost, low-ceiling options exist: Jeff Francis, Paul Maholm and Joel Pineiro, to name a few. The key for the Mets will be finding either an unranked free agent or one whose old team did not offer him arbitration; Alderson would rather overpay a free-agent pitcher than give up Draft picks for the right to sign one.

Why are the Mets even considering keeping Pelfrey? He will never be more than a fourth or fifth starter.
--Ray D., Belleview, Fla.

Because teams need fourth and fifth starters (see: Marquis, Jason). The Mets could easily save around $5 million by non-tendering Pelfrey next month, but they know he is their best bet to compile 200 innings. Will they be quality innings? Most likely a mixed bag. But a pitcher who can provide that kind of durability -- especially in a rotation rife with injury risks -- will always be valuable.

Agent Scott Boras laughed last week when asked if he expected the Mets to tender his client a contract, knowing that Pelfrey -- even coming off a down year -- could earn more through free agency than arbitration. It's a no-brainer. The Mets understand what Pelfrey is at this point: frustrating at best, maddening at worst. But the bottom line is that few free-agent starters can match his production for his price.

Who will lead off for the Mets next year if they don't sign Reyes? Will they be forced to sign a free agent shortstop or center fielder to lead off?
--Bill A., Aquebogue, N.Y.

With it seeming more and more likely that Pagan will return to New York, Reyes' leadoff replacement would almost certainly come from within. Though Pagan has been reluctant to embrace that role in the past, he will not have much of a choice if Reyes departs -- even if his on-base percentage may leave something to be desired, Pagan is more of a classic leadoff man than anyone else on the roster.

For what it's worth, Pagan is a .301 career hitter with a .341 on-base percentage batting leadoff, versus .266 with a .326 on-base mark hitting anywhere else in the lineup -- and that sample is large enough that it may not be coincidence.

Love everything about Jenrry Mejia. Any chance after a major surgery such as Tommy John that the Mets consider him in a new, shorter, role? Since the day I laid eyes on him I prayed the Mets wouldn't ruin this kid. He should be the closer of the future.
--Chris M., Waldwick, N.J.

Though the Mets have been tight-lipped on the subject of Mejia's future role, pitching coach Dan Warthen has trumpeted him on multiple occasions as a future reliever. The theory is that putting Mejia in the bullpen would reduce the stress on his arm and shoulder, thereby reducing the injury risk for such a small-bodied pitcher.

That may ultimately happen. But more pressing than defining roles is nursing Mejia back to health, now six months removed from his operation. The Mets plan to wait until Mejia is completely healthy before deciding whether to stretch him out or commit him to the bullpen long term.

Still, given all the talk since Mejia first arrived on the scene in 2010 -- and given how much trouble the Mets have had acquiring quality relievers -- I would bet on the latter.

Tim Byrdak signed the extension for 2012 with the Mets well over a month ago and no one has reported how much it is for. With the payroll budget being a major issue, this would be great to know. Any idea?
--Chris K., N.H.

Byrdak's deal is worth a base of $1 million, up from $900,000 last season. That brings the Mets' total 2012 commitments to $61.4 million for six players: Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Wright, R.A. Dickey, D.J. Carrasco and Byrdak. Expected arbitration raises for Pelfrey and Pagan should add roughly $10 million to that total.

Alderson hinted recently that he wants the payroll to be under $100 million heading into Opening Day. So if Reyes re-signs at around $20 million per year, you can see how little flexibility that would leave the Mets, who would have less than $10 million to spend on their remaining 16 players.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.