The last few months of 2015 were a roller coaster for Daniel Murphy. The second baseman went from being an average major leaguer to one of the most beloved players in New York Mets annals to a hated rival of the orange and blue. So which one is he now?
Well, he’s kind of all three. Baseball is a funny game, and thinking about how the Mets faithful should view Murphy tugs at a number of questions regarding fandom, history and moving on.
Before we talk about any of that, however, we need to take a look back at the latter part of Murphy’s 2015 season. After the Mets defeated the rival Washington Nationals on August 1, his slugging percentage was .388, but he raised it to .449 by the end of the regular season. How? He hit eight home runs over the final two months, more than doubling his season total, and added 19 doubles, an uncharacteristic display of power from the Florida native. Heading into the playoffs, the division champion Mets knew that they’d be getting some decent pop from the keystone, but no one could have expected what happened next.
Murphy ended up turning in one of the great postseason performances in the history of the game. He smashed seven home runs in 14 games, good for a slugging percentage of .724. Over the course of the first two series, he set a postseason record by going yard in six consecutive games. For his efforts, he was named NLCS MVP. While Murphy had a disappointing World Series — his bat went cold, and he made a crucial error towards the end of game 4 — his barrage of longballs secured his place as one of the most prolific playoff performers in Mets history.
After the season, Murphy became a free agent. The Mets extended a qualifying offer to him and went through the motions of initial negotiation, but it was clear that bringing back the postseason hero wasn’t a priority. Instead, he defected to the Nationals, the Mets’ biggest competition in the top-heavy National League East. Washington had parted ways with durable shortstop Ian Desmond, and bringing in Murphy was an effective way of plugging the infield hole and gaining on the Mets in one fell swoop.
We’re less than a month into the season, but the Murphy deal already appears to be one of the best moves of the offseason. Through 17 games, he’s slashing .397/.465/.635 with five doubles, two triples and two home runs. Yes, regression is inevitable, but based on what we saw at the end of last season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this is a continuation of a new, more powerful Daniel Murphy.
For Mets fans, the most painful part of this is watching him do it in a Nationals uniform. Last year, the Nats were the antithesis of everything the Mets stood for. The heavy World Series frontrunners heading into the season, they were wracked by injuries and poor team chemistry — the image of closer Jonathan Papelbon attempting to choke outfielder Bryce Harper in the dugout will endure as one of the lasting images of a disappointing year. Meanwhile, the upstart Mets rode their starting pitching to the division crown and developed great team chemistry along the way — during one game, shortstop Wilmer Flores shed tears at the prospect of being traded to Milwaukee. There’s definitely a kind of good guys-bad guys dynamic there (especially if you happen to be a Mets fan). It’s sad to watch a Mets icon like Murphy move to the dark side.
Should Mets fans be angry? Not necessarily. There are a few reasons why the orange and blue faithful should grant clemency to Murphy, and one of them is Neil Walker, his replacement at second base. Acquired in exchange for superfluous starter Jon Niese, the longtime Pittsburgh Pirate has capably filled Murphy’s shoes, hitting eight bombs and slugging .630 in his first 18 games. Maybe there’s something about that spot in the Citi Field infield. At any rate, there’s no reason to be bitter when the Mets are getting such great production from Murphy’s old spots.
Perhaps more importantly, Mets fans should avoid disparaging Murphy out of basic decency. When longtime Yankee David Wells signed with the Red Sox after the 2004 season and was booed upon returning to the Bronx, he was bemused, asking, “Don’t they remember what I’ve done for them?” Here, Mets fans have a chance to be classy and remember that Murphy brought their team to its first pennant in nearly 30 years.
It’s perfectly natural to have felt betrayed by Murphy at first, but the Mets barely made an effort to keep him and now have Walker, a superior fielder and quite possibly a better hitter. When the Nationals come to Flushing on May 17, the home crowd should give Murphy a standing ovation and move on — he deserves to always feel welcome at Citi Field.