Daniel Murphy became a national name during the New York Mets’ phenomenal 2015 postseason run, and his performance serves as a perfect illustration for what was an incredibly unlikely season. Murphy, like the Mets, was someone nobody really thought twice about as teams broke from spring training and prepared for the season to begin. A solid slap-hitting utilityman who had established a reputation for being tough to strike out but almost equally tough to walk, Murphy was a solid if unspectacular presence—just like his team. Everyone knew the Mets had the dominant starting pitching, but with a questionable lineup that lacked both punch and potential, there was only so far they could seemingly go.
Nobody—and I mean nobody, not even Murphy himself—could provide an explanation for his rapid rise to overnight stardom. Launching an unbelievable seven playoff home runs, including a tater in six straight games, Murphy was in a position he never dreamed to be possible. On July 23, more than three months into the campaign, the Mets were batting SS Wilmer Flores, OF John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell as their three-four-five in the middle of the order.
Somehow, someway despite an offense that would struggle to compete in Triple-A, the Mets—a team that believed their captain David Wright was going to be lost for the season after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis—found itself in prime contention to win a National League East everyone believed to be out of their reach. Beginning with Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, then Tyler Clippard and punctuated by Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets were injected with life, confidence and a turbo boost that ultimately shot them well past the Washington Nationals.
Ultimately, and unfortunately for Mets fans who had waited so long for this moment, it didn’t matter. Like Murphy, the Mets ran out of gas before they could cross the finish line. The young staff—one with Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard all logging a career-high workload—had, at times, resembled actual human beings rather than flame-throwing pitching machines. The lineup, one that had been previously carried by Cespedes, Murphy and even Duda, had only Granderson as its sole reliable performer. It wasn’t a surprise when the Mets lost to a talented Kansas City Royals team, but how it unfolded certainly was. Now the biggest offseason of General Manager Sandy Alderson’s tenure arrives, and he immediately faces several critical questions without any clear answers.
What will the future hold for Cespedes as he looks for the final payout of his up-and-down MLB career? An instant sensation upon his arrival in Queens, Cespedes played the role of superhero, donning a cape and putting the team on his strong, broad shoulders. Cespedes was a critical component in the Mets winning the National League East and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but he was nowhere to be found once October games began. An incredibly streaky star who has never seen a fastball he didn’t think he could hit to the moon, Cespedes is capable of getting white hot as easily—and as quickly—as he does ice cold. Although the Cuban slugger brought an undeniable presence to Citi Field that the park hasn’t experienced since its open, he was always billed as a rental, viewed as an alternative after the Mets were turned away elsewhere and it’s extremely difficult to see the club breaking the bank on Cespedes with so many needs elsewhere. As good as he was, New York now has an obligation to keep the line moving forward, and having one really nice car won’t hide the fact that you live in a broken down, split-level house that lacks a solid foundation.
And what about Murphy? Despite his willingness to play literally any role the organization asked of him, No. 28 was never expected to last in New York beyond the season. A trade candidate all year long, Murphy likely would have been shipped out during the season had the Mets not experienced so many injuries and been so depleted. He’ll almost certainly head to another organization that will pay him solely based on his past, and the Mets will be left with another hole to fill.
It doesn’t just stop there. Seven other players are now free agents, most notably Bartolo Colon, Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, and there are questions about those currently on board with the team. Can the human teeter totter better known as Lucas Duda serve as the everyday first baseman, or is it time for the Mets to move on from his power potential? With question marks currently comprising the shortstop and second base position, what will the middle infield alignment look like next season? David Wright heroically returned to lead his team over the final two months after battling to get back for so much of the season, and nobody knows how to project his uncertain future.
Losing Murphy and Cespedes—the two guys who just hit three and four in the order on the game’s championship stage—is going to be a blow, but how the Mets respond to its impact will determine the severity.
The bullpen in front of Jeurys ‘Somos’ Familia was exposed like a front in a bad neighborhood. The offense was far too reliant on the long ball for a lineup that didn’t offer enough consistent power.
Alderson’s tenure has been defined by different events and changing expectations, but he’s never had to clear a bar this high. It’s on the front office—one that absolutely has to be supported by an ownership group that has no choice but to spend after the magical cab ride it just saw unfold in Queens—to improve a team that just made it to the World Series.
If it was supposed to be easy, it wouldn’t be the Mets.