Second baseman Daniel Murphy has tormented the Mets since leaving them to sign a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the Nationals after the 2015 season.
Murphy will again be a free agent this winter at a time when the Mets are expected -- yet again -- to be in search of everyday second baseman. The Mets would be smart to consider bringing Murphy back 1) to fill multiple spots on their roster, but also 2) to get him out of the opposing batter's box.
The Nationals traded Murphy last month to the Cubs, with whom he had just two hits in nine plate appearances against the Mets last week at Wrigley Field. However, prior to his recent two-game set against the Mets, he had been hitting .392 with 25 extra base hits and 43 RBI during just 44 games played against them for the Nationals.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only player to drive in more runs than Murphy during his first season against his former team was Roger Maris in 1960.
The previous October, Murphy set an MLB record with the Mets by hitting a home run in six straight postseason games, during which he was named National League Championship Series MVP as the Mets advanced to their first World Series since 2000.
"When he became a free agent coming off the postseason that he had, I was shocked that it took so long for somebody to get him signed," then-manager Terry Collins said about Murphy.
Sandy Alderson was in full control of the team back when deciding whether to offer Murphy a multi-year deal. However, he and his front office ignored Murphy and instead targeted free-agent Ben Zobrist, who was older, asking for money, but also a more consistent hitter and capable of playing outfield, as well as multiple positions on the infield.
To be fair, Murphy could have taken the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer extended to him by the Mets after 2015. However, he was hellbent on inking a multi-year contract, especially being recently married and becoming a father.
In early December that winter, during the MLB Winter Meetings, the Mets were told by Zobrist's agent that they had the highest offer to their client. The Mets felt so confident they were about to land Zobrist that reports started to surface saying a deal could be close to getting announced. Then, without warning, Zobrist took less money to sign with the Cubs and left the Mets needing to turn quickly to Plan B, which still did not include Murphy. Instead of re-engaging their former second baseman, they sent struggling, out-of-favor pitcher Jon Niese to the Pirates for 2B Neil Walker.
Walker was due just $10.5 million the next season, after which he could become a free agent.
Still unsigned in late December, it was repeatedly reported that the Mets and most teams interested in Murphy were concerned that his late-2015 power was simply a hot streak and unlikely to carry over in to the next season. In addition, most teams felt Murphy's fielding had been and would always be a problem for him, whether playing second, third or first base.
Murphy eventually inked his three-year deal with the Nationals in January 2016.
"They felt that the best course of action at that time was that there was a little bit better deal on the open market," Murphy said in 2016, alluding to Alderson's interest in Zobrist. "There was nothing malicious in it at all."
In hindsight, by reworking his swing with then-Mets hitting coach Kevin Long during late summer 2015, the duo effectively kicked off The Launch Angle Era, which stuck around for Murphy, as well as countless other power hitters to emerge the last few seasons.
Murphy had always been a slap hitting, gap-to-gap doubles machine. However, Long created pre-game drills that pushed Murphy to lower his back shoulder, get drive more from his hips and become more pull-conscious rather than slap at the ball for opposite-field singles.
Based on my conversations with team sources at the time, as well as other teams interested in Murphy, it was assumed that opposing pitchers would eventually adjust to his new swing and find ways to diminish his elevated home run totals.
As the Mets will be the first to attest, that never happened. Murphy hit 62 home runs during his seven seasons in New York, after which he hit 58 home runs the next three and a half years. He's also hitting .329 with a .379 OBP, while winning two Silver Slugger Awards, receiving multiple MVP voters and making two All-Star appearances.
Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis recently told the Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that Murphy has helped him crystallize Chicago's approach at the plate.
"He's locked in every pitch, the whole at-bat," Davis told the Times. "And you can listen to Murphy when he comes in after an at-bat, whether he gets a hit or an out, the pitch is made and he'll say, 'Hey, win the next pitch.' That's basically the model here: try to win each pitch."
The Cubs were already doing well prior to Murphy joining them in mid-August. However, they've been even better since his arrival, going 11-2 as he's hit .316 with four home runs in 13 games.
"Offensively speaking, I know our numbers appear to be good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon told Kepner. "But I'm telling you, Daniel coming here really is the separator."
In hindsight, the Mets goofed by letting Murphy leave, especially since he ended up playing for their top division rival. However, this winter, they may get a chance to rectify their mistake, not to mention give Mets manager Mickey Callaway the leadership and hustle he's been searching for all season...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!