Daniel Murphy: Fan Favorite Turned Mortal Enemy
There once was a time where Mets fans used to gather around, get together at a bar table and/or twitter and discuss the merits of Daniel Murphy in a Mets’ uniform. Decent player? Sure. Pretty good with the bat? You bet. Good enough to accept his subpar defense at Second Base? Well…
And the discussion would go on and on. Until this past winter, when the Mets and Daniel Murphy parted ways after he opted not to sign the Qualifying Offer. Now the discussion has once again changed – Should the Mets have kept Daniel Murphy? Like anything involving Murph (as Mets fans often called him), this would again turn into a heated debate. For many Mets fans this seemed like a pretty good outcome. The team wouldn’t have to pay for past performance as Murphy enters his age 30 season and beyond, they get a compensation pick for his choosing not to sign the Qualifying Offer, and said Qualifying Offer was substantial enough the team (theoretically) wouldn’t have to be called out for their penny pinching. On the other hand, there was some consternation among other Met fans. Especially coming off his amazing postseason run. But, how do you quantify that into a contract? There in lied the rub.
To some fans pleasure and others fans’ displeasure, the Mets front office let Murphy go and took other measures to solidify the infield. They traded Jon Niese this past winter in return for the last season of Neil Walker’s contract before he hit free agency. While Walker has been a more than adequate replacement at second base, Murphy on the other hand has emerged as an MVP candidate. At the all-star break, Murphy has hit .348/.387/.598 with 17 Home Runs, good for a 154 OPS+ so far. That’s good for the third highest OPS+ in the National League, only behind Anthony Rizzo and Matt Carpenter. And after signing with the Nationals for a 3 year/$37.5M contract, he’s looking like the best signing of this past offseason. To let Murphy go and see him excel is one thing, but to see him go to a division rival at a relative bargain and see him perform at MVP-caliber levels? It’s enough to pull your hair out for sure.
And to make matters even worse? He has owned the New York Mets this season. In the 13 games Murphy has faced his own teammates this season, he is hitting a ridiculous .423/.446/.885 with 7 Home Runs and 21 Runs Batted In. To pour even more salt on the wounds, he’s hit .393/.419/.929 with 4 of his Home Runs coming at Citi Field. What seemed like a fluke hot streak in last year’s playoffs is turning out to be a real improvement Murphy has made as a hitter. Working with Met hitting coach Kevin Long last season really seemed to leave an impact on Murphy, who hit a career high 14 Home Runs last season, culminating in his torrid October which helped the Mets get to the World Series for the first time since 2000. And now he is punishing the Mets and their fans with those seemingly lasting improvements. He has given fans flashbacks of Chipper Jones, who always seemed to play his best against the Mets. Scherzer only stoked the flames after a night Murphy hit two home runs to secure another win against the Mets:
“For him to come out here and really slug against them, I know that puts a smile … it puts a smile on all of our faces, because we know what he’s going through,” Scherzer said. “It’s special for him to be able to do that, because he’s been a huge reason why we’ve won so many ballgames here in the first half. He’s had a huge first half just on batting average, home runs, RBI. He’s been so clutch for us. He’s been such an addition for our ball club.”
So as the Mets look to make a return to the postseason, something they have not done in consecutive years since 1999-2000, they will have to do so with a former ally standing in their way. Maybe Murphy will come back down to earth in the second half. Maybe he’ll never hit like this again. But one thing is for sure: if Daniel Murphy continues to terrorize the Mets, their fans will never think of him the same way again. The homegrown hero will continue to transform into their villainous rival.