Inbox: Why not platoon Murphy, Turner?
Mets beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions
The countdown continues. We're now three weeks away from the official start of Spring Training, when Mets pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla.
At this point, not many roster questions remain. The Mets are still seeking a left-handed bat for their bench, but other than that, the team appears mostly set. The starting lineup seems set as well, even if uncertainty surrounds one particular position.
With that, we begin this week's Inbox with a pair of questions regarding a pair of second basemen:
How does Justin Turner fit into this team? For a good portion of the season he was the best hitter in the Mets' lineup, and I'm stunned nobody has mentioned a potential platoon between him and Daniel Murphy. The job should be up for grabs given the fact that Turner looked more comfortable at the position than Murphy.
-- Matt P., East Rutherford, N.J.
There's all this talk about who will play second base for the Mets this year -- is it so far-fetched to platoon Murphy (a lefty hitter) and Turner (a righty)? It worked for a couple of guys named Wally Backman and Tim Teufel. Why not Murphy and Turner?
-- John C., Bayside, N.Y.
Have a question about the Mets?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Mets beat reporter Anthony DiComo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Quite a few readers have questioned whether it is fair (or prudent) simply to hand the second-base job to Murphy, who has clearly endured his share of defensive issues over the years. The short answer is that the Mets have not yet given the job to Murphy, to Turner or to anyone else. They have simply admitted that, given Murphy's hitting prowess and their offensive limitations as a team, they would do well to find a place for his bat somewhere in the lineup. And with Ike Davis, David Wright and Jason Bay entrenched at first base, third base and left field, respectively, second base is really the only option for Murphy.
That does not mean the job belongs to Murphy, only that it is Murphy's to lose. Should Murphy stumble in Spring Training while Turner surges, it's conceivable that Turner could win the job. It's even possible (though unlikely) that Jordany Valdespin could earn the assignment over both of them with a standout performance in March.
But the Mets are most intrigued with what Murphy can give them offensively, and for good reason. He was, after all, the National League's fifth-leading hitter at the time of his knee injury last August, reviving his career during a crossroads-type season. Lacking offense in general, but especially in quality left-handed bats, the Mets have even more incentive this year to give Murphy every opportunity at second.
As for the platoon scenario, that's a real possibility, even if Murphy and Turner do not start out the season that way. I suspect that manager Terry Collins will give Murphy most of his days off when the team faces lefties; how Turner responds in those situations may determine how much additional playing time he ultimately receives.
Then again, there are no guarantees that a platoon would actually work. Though Murphy hit 27 points lower, with an on-base percentage 55 points lower, against left-handed pitching last season, Turner has actually produced reverse platoon splits in his young career, faring better against right-handers than lefties. It's a small sample, meaning Turner's splits may eventually even out and begin trending in the other direction. But for now, it's all the data the Mets have to consider.
In that sense, a platoon could be the ideal solution for the Mets, allowing Collins to give Murphy the bulk of the at-bats, while still offering Turner plenty of playing time without overextending him. But this is a performance-based business, meaning it won't take much for either infielder to nab additional playing time with strong initial results.
Considering that Johan Santana is far from a certainty in terms of Opening Day availability, what are the chances R.A. Dickey pitches Opening Day against Atlanta? I think he would deserve the opportunity more than Mike Pelfrey or any other pitcher on the Mets' staff for that matter, if Santana were not ready.
-- Dan B., Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
Unlike last year, when Collins named his Opening Day starter in the dead of winter, the manager has been tight-lipped on that issue this year -- and for good reason. No one knows exactly how ready Santana will be come Opening Day.
Collins has said on multiple occasions that he believes Santana is a true ace, hinting that if the left-hander is healthy, he will receive the Opening Day nod. And that makes sense. But if Santana is anything less than 100 percent come April, then I suspect you're right: Dickey will indeed earn the assignment. Coming off a better and more consistent year than any other Mets pitcher, Dickey would really be the only choice at that point. He was the clear leader of this staff in Santana's absence, and its best pitcher to boot.
What are the chances Chris Schwinden stays up with team and lands as the fifth man in the rotation? I'm sure he would have stayed in games longer last September if the team played good defense.
-- Daniel M., Visalia, Calif.
There's no doubt that Schwinden's struggles last September were due in part to some rotten luck, but that much won't help the right-hander earn a rotation spot this spring. Collins has already verbally committed to Santana, Dickey, Pelfrey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee as his five starters coming out of Spring Training, so unless one of them suffers an injury, it's unlikely that anyone else will crack the rotation.
But Schwinden's strong campaign for Triple-A Buffalo last summer was not without its rewards. Once the Mets need a sixth starter -- and that will happen eventually -- Schwinden has put himself on the short list of candidates for a callup, alongside Miguel Batista, Jeremy Hefner and Garrett Olson.
Are there any free agents that the Mets still have interest in, or are we done until the season starts?
-- Mario D., Brewster, N.Y.
As previously mentioned, the team's lone remaining need is a left-handed bat. The strong preference is to nab a Major League talent on a Minor League deal, as the Phillies recently did with outfielder Juan Pierre. But if the price drops low enough on someone such as Johnny Damon or Raul Ibanez, it's possible the Mets could commit a Major League spot to him.
As it currently stands, the club's fifth bench spot is shaping up to be a competition between outfielders Mike Baxter and Adam Loewen, both of whom will report to camp on Minor League deals.
I just watched Brad Lidge sign a one-year contract for $1 million with the Nationals. I watched the Mets sign Frank Francisco to a much larger contract. If money is so tight, why go the direction the Mets have?
-- No name given, Merrick, N.Y.
There's a reason Lidge came so cheap: He has battled some serious arm issues in recent years, and at age 35, there's no telling when something similar might crop up again.
There's also a difference between proceeding on a budget and proceeding as cheaply as possible. The Mets entered this offseason with a budget of between $90 million to $100 million, and about 80 percent of that money already committed to returning players. They felt relatively secure with their lineup and rotation options, prompting them to spend nearly all their free cash on relievers and bench players.
It wasn't enough money to land one of the premier free-agent relievers on the market. But it was enough to sign who they believed was the best of the second tier in Francisco and Jon Rauch.
Might Lidge wind up being more of a bargain than Francisco? Absolutely. Might general manager Sandy Alderson regret committing $12 million to a single reliever over the next two seasons? Sure. But the Mets paid for consistency, and few relief pitchers in the game have been as consistent as Francisco over the past three years.
What is the status of Jenrry Mejia as a prospect? There has been a lot of talk about Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, but is Mejia still in the conversation?
-- Donny S., Nyack, N.Y.
Had he not undergone Tommy John surgery last May, Mejia likely would have ranked right up there with Wheeler, Harvey and Familia as a prospect. Instead, the Mets must play the waiting game. It may be another full year before Mejia is fully recovered and ready to contribute to the Major League club, so it's difficult to put him in the prospect conversation until that time.
Why was Harvey invited to Spring Training but not Wheeler? What level will they play at in 2012?
-- Sy Y., New York
Wheeler was not invited for the simple reason that he is a year younger than Harvey and Familia, and a year behind in his professional development.
There is a strong chance that all three of the organization's highly touted young pitchers start this season together at Double-A Binghamton. But Harvey and Familia may not stay at that level for long, whereas Wheeler will likely spend most of his summer there.
Why is Collins so determined to have Andres Torres lead off when Ruben Tejada has a higher average and a much higher on-base percentage? Sabermetrics followers and anyone who has seen "Moneyball" know that a leadoff hitter should have a high OBP. Tejada's was .360, and Torres' was only .312.
-- William G., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Part of it is the speed element. Collins can be old-school in his baseball philosophies, and the old-school approach is to put your fastest guy up top. Part of it is the fact that Torres is just one year removed from a .343 on-base-percentage season, which is more acceptable -- if not entirely adequate -- for a leadoff hitter. But most of it, I suspect, is that Collins does not want to put too much pressure on Tejada in what will be the shortstop's first full big league season. The fear is that Tejada will try to become the next Jose Reyes, and that just won't work. The Mets need Tejada to be Tejada, or else he has little chance to succeed.
It is worth noting, by the way, that the leadoff job does not necessarily belong to Torres, despite his current status as the favorite. Collins is also considering Murphy for that role, given the infielder's relatively high on-base percentage (.362) last season.