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The contract conundrum facing Daniel Murphy and the Mets

The Mets' Daniel Murphy sits in the dugout

The Mets' Daniel Murphy sits in the dugout at a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on Aug. 27, 2014. Photo Credit: Errol Anderson

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - While free agency appears inevitable for second baseman Daniel Murphy, he reiterated Thursday that he prefers to sign an extension with the Mets.

"I've always been open to an extension,'' said Murphy, who acknowledged that the sides have not engaged in talks. "I've never approached the blessing of playing in the big leagues with thinking I need to maximize every single dollar I can get out of this game. I've made a whole bunch of money already.''

A long-term commitment, however, is what he seeks. He's even willing to entertain negotiations in-season, a time when some players shy away from such distractions. He also referenced owner Jeff Wilpon and what Murphy called a good relationship with his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson.

Still, sources said Thursday that the Mets have no intention of engaging in talks, a stance that has remained unchanged since last year.

"As of right now, I'm a Met for this year, for sure,'' said Murphy, who insisted he is not pricing himself out of the market. "[I'd] love to be here in the future. But that stuff is way in the future. I've got too much anxiety about today to worry about what happens in November.''

Murphy, 29, agreed to an $8-million deal in his final year of arbitration. It came after he hit .289/.332/.403 during his first All-Star season. But general manager Sandy Alderson generally has avoided extensions.

He has made exceptions, most notably with third baseman David Wright, but Murphy's case presents different considerations. As a player, he escapes easy classification, with an unusual set of strengths and weaknesses.

In an era dominated by strikeouts, Murphy has distinguished himself with his superb contact skills and a consistently high average. But his aggressive approach usually translates to fewer walks at a time when more organizations emphasize reaching base.

Murphy's substandard defense presents another complication. To keep his bat in the lineup, the Mets have accepted his lack of range at second base, though it weakens their defense up the middle.

But even if the Mets had openings at less demanding defensive positions -- such as first base or third base -- Murphy lacks the power typically demanded from each spot.

That conundrum, according a source, lies at the heart of the Mets' hesitation to discuss an extension.

With age, defensive range only regresses, and Murphy already is considered below average in that critical area despite what has been marked improvement. To make the trade-off worthwhile, Murphy would not be able to afford much drop-off at the plate. It's a gamble that the Mets don't seem inclined to make.

Also, in prospect Dilson Herrera, the Mets have a more cost-effective replacement waiting in the wings.

The Mets appear ready to let Murphy walk, even if it means he might not bring back draft- pick compensation. Barring a career season, one source said the Mets would be wary of making Murphy a qualifying offer ($15.3 million last season).

Assuming a typical season, some rival major league executives can envision Murphy fetching a multiyear deal if he were to reach free agency.

"There will be a nice line of suitors for him,'' an official with another team said. "Some will want the bat and accept the below-average glove if necessary. He's young enough, the bat is strong enough to warrant a multiyear [deal].''

Another executive noted that despite his defensive deficiencies -- particularly at second base -- Murphy has remained a productive player when measured by advanced metrics such as wins above replacement.

"Somebody will pay him a little bit if he gets through the year OK,'' the executive said.

Of course, Murphy is holding out hope that he sticks with the Mets. He brushed off the notion of being bothered by the lack of an extension and stated his intent not to discuss this contract, barring any new development.

"Just because I'm not locked up to a multiyear extension doesn't mean I'm not part of [the organization's] direction right now,'' Murphy said. "And I am a part of what's happening right now in 2015, which is exciting, and which is what I think myself and the organization and everyone in that locker room is more concerned with.'

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