VIERA, Fla. — Perhaps with time, the answers will come easier for Daniel Murphy. But for now, the former Mets postseason hero sounded like a man still locked in transition.
Consider his response Thursday before his new team, the Nationals, beat his old team, 9-4. It was an otherwise meaningless Grapefruit League game that was Murphy’s first against the Mets. Asked if he still self-identifies as a Met or if he has become a National, Murphy said: “I’m good with baseball player. Father. Husband.”
In six minutes, Murphy never uttered the word “Mets,” though the franchise that drafted and developed him still employs some of his friends. Instead, he preferred “those guys over there.”
“I settled in pretty quickly,” Murphy said. “It’s definitely different. Four or five months ago, those guys over there were my teammates. I know just about everybody in the organization. But I’m excited to be here in Washington and I thought it was a good start to spring training.”
Murphy, 30, said he had not seen many of his old teammates since Game 5 of last year’s World Series. Before the game, he gave manager Terry Collins a hug and greeted him with the familiar refrain: “Hey, Skipper!”
“It’s great to see him,” Collins said. “We talked for a couple of minutes, he came back out. All’s you can say is good luck, thanks for everything you did, brought to the team, brought to this organization. But it’s the game.”
The Mets chose to leave the door open for Dilson Herrera, the prospect whom they still view as the long-term answer at second base. And that meant not pursuing the kind of long-term deal Murphy was seeking.
The Mets’ belief was further reinforced in the trade for Neil Walker, a near facsimile of Murphy who will be a free agent at season’s end.
Murphy put the most straightforward spin on his fate. “There was nothing malicious in it at all,” he said. “They made a decision. Mostly it says . . . a lot about Dilson who’s out there. They have really high hopes for him. He’s a good player. I think he’s going to be a really good big-leaguer.”
The Mets drafted Murphy in the 13th round in 2006, then watched him blossom into a dangerous, contact-oriented hitter. They endured the often painful experiment of converting him to a second baseman despite his lack of range at the position.
Those efforts paid off in the postseason, when Murphy homered in six straight games and seven of nine, all while carving out his own place in franchise lore. But it soon became obvious that the free-agent-to-be was headed elsewhere.
Murphy said he considered accepting the Mets’ one-year, $15.8-million qualifying offer, though his agents believed a better deal could be found on the market. Soon after, the Mets shifted their focus toward signing Ben Zobrist as a replacement.
Despite Murphy’s desire to stay with the Mets, a long-term reunion never gained traction. The Nationals signed him to a three-year, $37.5-million deal, ending his long-standing relationship with the Mets. But in some ways, it endures.
Murphy said he still texts with Lucas Duda and David Wright. He’s followed his former team close enough to know that Curtis Granderson has been dealing with eye irritation (though Murphy refrained from weighing in on the fate of Yoenis Cespedes’ prized hog).
Of course, none of those veterans made the trip Thursday, a reminder that Murphy’s full reunion with the Mets is yet to come. Perhaps by then, he’ll have a firmer sense of self-identity.
Said Murphy: “It will be nice to see them all in person.”