The Mets are probably going to need to trade for a first baseman (more on that below). But in the meantime, few scouts can understand why Daniel Murphy -- the former fair-haired boy -- isn't getting a full crack at first base in Carlos Delgado's absence.
He's supposedly the "heir apparent" to Delgado at first base (at least that's what several team honchos decided this winter/spring), and he's allegedly in the first base rotation. Yet, Murphy has exactly zero starts at first so far. Fernando Tatis is getting most of the starts there, while even journeyman outfielder Jeremy Reed has gotten a tad of time there.
One scout said, "What's confusing is that Murphy's easily the best hitter of the bunch ... to not have him in the games on a regular basis, well, I don't get it."
What's more, Murphy, a third baseman in the minors, is currently killing them in the outfield. So why the heck not?
Another scout predicted, "He'd be at least as good as Tatis. And Delgado ... he'll be as good as Delgado [defensively] at first."
Of course, scouts can take a longer-range look at things than managers (Jerry Manuel, in this case, whose contract only runs through 2010). Yet, Murphy was considered a phenom only a few short weeks ago. And then only a few days ago, in a hunch gone horribly wrong, Manuel was hitting journeyman Angel Pagan for Murphy in a crucial situation.
Eventually, with Delgado out 10 weeks by the Mets' estimation (and that may be optimistic), everyone understands that the best move may be to find a first baseman in trade. And as far as that goes, here are the looming options, in order of likelihood:
1. Nick Johnson, Nationals: "He's back to being the old Nick Johnson.," one scout said. Johnson is hitting .333 and has a .432 on-base percentage. "Probably their best option. Above average on both sides of the ball when he plays," another scout said. The issue, of course, is that he's been hurt so frequently that any acquiring team would have to cross its fingers and pray (both would be needed). The Nats need young pitching, so a match can be made.
2. Aubrey Huff, Orioles: A consistent producer for the Orioles, he quietly had a huge year last year, finishing third in the AL in total bases with 330, and is hitting well again this year. But he's not as solid an all-around player as Johnson. "Not a good fielder and another base clogger, which we don't need," one Mets person said. But at least he stays healthy.
3. Russell Branyan, Mariners: Could Branyan (.310 average, 10 homers, 20 RBIs) be on the verge of something special? Or is he a flash in the pan? He's finally showing the consistent power scouts predicted years ago. But he's had flashes, and chances, before. So who knows?
4. Victor Martinez/Mark DeRosa, Indians: Cleveland's not giving up just yet. How can they wave the white flag with their big preseason expectations and awfully balanced division? But these are two to keep an eye on in a few weeks if the Mets still need a first baseman, especially DeRosa; Cleveland is already fielding offers for the versatile 34-year-old whose contract is up after the season. You'd have to know Mets people would love Martinez, who could transition over to catcher if Delgado returns sometime this season. Brian Schneider's probably better than Martinez defensively, but many Mets people generally have little use for any of their catchers, so this would work out perfectly. But, said one NL scout of Indians executives, "They'd have to be drunk to trade [Martinez]."
5. Garrett Atkins, Rockies: He's been a third baseman in Colorado, so first base would be an adjustment for him.
In the meantime, the Mets say they will employ the rotation that allegedly includes Murphy, the fair-haired boy turned forgotten man. "Murphy is going to hit left-handers," one scout insists. "I don't get why they don't give him an opportunity."
Frankly, neither do I.
Here's an extensive list of players who could hit the trading block this summer ...
1. Jake Peavy, Padres, SP: Has pitched beautifully, though the $60 million remaining through 2012 doesn't look quite as cheap as it did in the early winter, when the Braves and Cubs were begging. The Cubs remain a possibility, and the Brewers could be, as well. Peavy has a full no-trade provision through next year and indications are that he prefers to be in the National League and in the Midwest or West.
2. Matt Holliday, A's, OF: GM Billy Beane mentioned in a recent phone conversation that he wouldn't mind taking the two draft choices, and as one competing exec mentioned, "they're valuable now," so they aren't obligated to deal him. But a trade remains a distinct possibility if Oakland doesn't turn things around.
3. Erik Bedard, Mariners, SP: Nobody's giving them back Adam Jones, but there's no reason to think he's signing in Seattle, either.
4. Cliff Lee, Indians, SP: Cleveland never made a multiyear offer to him, and while it has a reasonable $8 million option on him for 2010, his price tag shoots up next year as his trade value starts to slip.
5. Jarrod Washburn, Mariners, SP: He's 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA, so he can help someone. But Seattle's previous regime probably should have just taken the Yankees' proposal to take his contract for $11 million a year last summer.
6. Jon Garland, Diamondbacks, SP: Noted innings-eater could help someone.
7. DeRosa, Indians, 3B: A poor man's Casey Blake. The Indians are currently fielding offers for the super-utilityman.
8. Huff, Orioles, 1B: Baltimore probably will want a decent-sized haul.
9. Jose Valverde, Astros, CL: Houston owner Drayton McLane probably isn't as attached to Valverde as he is to Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman.
10. Jason Giambi, A's, 1B: One-dimensional player could provide a jolt of power. Still, one competing exec summed it up like this: "limited value."
11. Atkins, Rockies, 3B: Professional hitter perpetually on the block. Prospect Ian Stewart makes Atkins expendable.
12. Adrian Beltre, Mariners, 3B: Dynamic defender but hasn't hit like he did at the end in L.A. Angels are said to like him.
13. Huston Street, Rockies, CL: On the block almost since arriving in Colorado.
14. Russ Springer, A's, RP: Dependable bullpen arm years after brief retirement makes obvious trade fodder.
15. Branyan, Mariners, 1B: Tattooing the ball at Seattle's Safeco -- no easy thing. Finally emerging?
16. Johnson, Nationals, 1B: Trading block staple.
17. Orlando Cabrera, A's, SS: Very good player with short shelf life everywhere he goes.
18. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers, OF: Vesting options for this year and next make contract dangerous. Besides, Detroit expects to contend in tight AL Central.
19. Jermaine Dye, White Sox, OF: Linked to Braves, Reds and Rays in winter. But hard to imagine ChiSox giving up soon.
20. Oswalt, Astros, SP: A frequent subject of summer trade talk, but McLane can never pull the trigger on longtime star.
21. Brian Giles, Padres, OF: High price ($9 million) and fading power (2 HR, 15 RBIs, .168 average) make market dubious.
22. Berkman, Astros, 1B: Too beloved to trade.
• Arizona's out-of-the-box managerial pick of A.J. Hinch has ruffled a few feathers. Pitching coach Bryan Price, who resigned, publicly said others were more deserving than front-office man Hinch. And Danny Knobler of cbssports.com reports that Kirk Gibson was hoping to get the job. The D-backs did at least consider minor-league manager Brett Butler plus Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, if that makes Gibby feel better. Probably not.
• The Brewers suffered a blow when vastly improving infielder Rickie Weeks was lost for the year with a wrist injury suffered on a swing in St. Louis. But they aren't in such a terrible spot at second. They have the perennially clutch Craig Counsell plus Casey McGehee, a spring standout. Brewers GM Doug Melvin said he heard from the agent for Ray Durham, though he seems disinclined to go that route again. Plus, the Brewers will have top shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar play some second in the minors, just in case.
• The callup of prospect Mat Gamel, 23, who homered Monday in St. Louis, potentially gives the Brewers yet another big-time hitter. Mike Cameron predicted great things for Gamel when I saw them this spring.
• Ryan Braun is one terrific outfielder, no kidding. The move of Braun from third base to left field is one of the smartest things any team has done in years.
• The Dodgers briefly tried to lock up Chad Billingsley this winter, and probably wish they had.
• Joey Votto is undergoing more tests to determine what caused his dizziness. The Reds can ill afford to lose him. "He's the difference between us contending and not contending," one Reds person said.
• MLB talked to umpire Paul Schrieber about putting his hand on Magglio Ordonez, but didn't fine him. Schreiber's intentions weren't bad after Ordonez started to argue a called strike three, so that's the right call by baseball. But next time, please, no touching.
• Jerry Manuel calling Ryan Church "the guy" was reminiscent of John McCain calling Barack Obama "that guy." Both men denied there's a rift after Manuel was so angered by Church missing third base in the Mets' heartbreaking 3-2 defeat Monday in L.A. But I'd have to say, I don't believe Manuel's in love.
• I don't care about his strikeout-to-walk ratio (32-to-20), the Braves' young Jair Jurrjens looks like a star in the making to me.
• The otherwise feisty, scrappy, heady Twins are psyched out at Yankee Stadium (three wins in their last 26 games at YS, new and old). There I said it.
• As the days go by, I am more impressed by the Blue Jays.
• Speaking of which, my bad that I omitted Vernon Wells from my list of top center fielders altogether. Also my bad that I left out Cameron. There are a lot of very good center fielders (that's no excuse, by the way). But there's only one great one. And sorry, Steve Phillips, that would be Carlos Beltran.
• A-Rod looks like he's having fun, like he doesn't have a care in the world.
• I don't care what anyone says. Derek Jeter, 34, doesn't look old to me. In fact, he looks better going to his left than he has in years.
• On the other hand, it's like Papi's aged a decade in a year (.203, no home runs). Last weekend's head-clearing session apparently didn't work.
• Rare cinema advice: I'd just ignore Oakland's record while watching Moneyball, and enjoy the show when it comes out.
• Sonya Keller is the winner of a not-so-valuable prize as my 2,500th Twitter follower (an old press pass or All-Star pin to be named later), if she wants to claim it. So far, no. Keller, I noticed, is following only me. What kind of person would follow only one person, and make that one person me, anyway? While I have given up my dream to beat Nick Swisher's Twitter site (130 grand followers, and counting) -- unlike me, he says consistently upbeat stuff like "AMAZING. 3 straight walk offs" -- I did pass the Twitter sites of the Cardinals, Tigers, Orioles, Padres and Angels in the last couple days. To follow me, click on SI_JonHeyman.