The Value of Matt Murton

When Matt Murton made his debut with the Chicago Cubs on July 8, 2005 he quickly became a fan favorite. Murton fit the profile of a gritty, hard-working, blue-collar ball player. He was not the prototypical power-hitter that most clubs insert in a corner outfield position but in only 51 games in 2005 he provided reason for hope that the future was once again bright for the Cubs. Murton showed patience at the plate, one factor of the game the Cubs could never harness and one the organization still has trouble with almost three years later. Murton’s first cup of coffee at the big level sported a decent line of .321/.386/.521 with 7 home runs and a .907 OPS.

Murton was given the starting job in left field a year later, and he earned it. Murton played decent defense while putting up a .297/.365/.444 line in his first full season in the majors. The power numbers were once again very questionable and in 144 games he hit only 13 home runs with a .809 OPS. Unfortunately for Murton he was a part of one of the weakest hitting outfields in all of baseball and soon after the nightmare of 2006 ended he lost his starting job.

When the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano, Matt Murton’s future with the club became uncertain at best. Murton had played right in college but with the challenge that is right field in Wrigley, many thought he would struggle defensively in that position. Then came the news on the first night of the convention, a year ago, that Soriano would be willing to play centerfield. Lou Piniella was happy when he found out the following morning and it appeared Murton would have a spot on the team after all.

Jim Hendry signed Cliff Floyd not long after the convention and Murton was once again out of a job, at least an everyday job. The understanding was that he and Floyd would platoon in left with Soriano in center and Jacque Jones in right. ‘The Soriano Experiment’ lasted through Spring Training and until Soriano hurt is leg lunging for a ball in April. Soriano was not placed on the DL but Felix Pie was called up, made his debut and Soriano would never again step into the centerfield position.

Once Soriano returned Piniella tried to platoon Floyd and Murton in right field. Both players did an adequate job but one of the glaring holes early on in the season was the lack of production and defense the team was receiving from right field. The Cubs sent Murton down to Iowa in June in order to learn how to play right, with a little less pressure to figure out a new position.

Murton spent six weeks (June 13th – July 27th) at Iowa before recalled. He helped the Cubs win games while he struggled to find his place on the team. In 94 games last season he posted a .281/.352/.438 line with 8 home runs in 235 at bats with a .791 OPS….but in the second half, when his role was more defined, Murton posted a .310/.375/.543 line with 7 home runs in 116 at bats with a .918 OPS. Clearly better offensive production.

Murton reportedly talked with Daryle Ward on what it takes to be a successful big league pinch hitter and appeared to except his position on the team as the season came to a conclusion. Murton’s biggest asset was his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Last year he hit .319/.386/.505 against southpaws in 91 at bats with 3 home runs and a .892 OPS. For his career, .326/.399/.510 in 298 at bats with a .909 OPS.

When Jim Hendry signed Kosuke Fukudome, Matt Murton once again found himself without a spot in the Cubs organization. Murton cannot play center and with Fukudome and Soriano firmly planted in the corner spots for the foreseeable future, baring injury, Murton’s role has been reduced to that of a pinch-hitter, the right-handed version of Daryle Ward. Murton should be given the opportunity to go to another organization and continue his career. Murton could give Lou Piniella depth on the bench, but Murton’s greatest value, at this point, would be as a trading chip in order for the Cubs to fill an immediate need.

Fans, especially the Faithful, have a tendency to overvalue players like Matt Murton. He plays the game hard and appears to give his all every time he takes the field. Take out the stats, range factor, park adjusted this or that and one thing remains, Matt Murton is a baseball player.

The Dallas Morning News stated on Saturday morning that the Rangers had turned down a good ole fashion baseball trade….one player for one player. According to the report, Marlon Byrd has been informed the Cubs have expressed interest in him but the Rangers would want one to two pitching prospects, along with Matt Murton, in return for Byrd. Fan goggles or no fan goggles, a Murton for Byrd trade, straight up, would fill needs for both organizations. But a 2 for 1 or much less a 3 for 1 deal for Marlon Byrd would be giving up entirely too much for a platoon player, with questionable defense and very little success at Wrigley Field.

Byrd recently signed a 1-year deal with the Rangers worth $1.8 million dollars and avoided arbitration. This was after being sent down to the minors a year ago out of Spring Training and taking over in center for the Rangers after Kenny Lofton was dealt to the Indians at the trading deadline. Byrd has never played a full season at the big league level.

Byrd hit .307 with a .355 OBP in 109 games (414 at bats) with the Rangers last season with 17 doubles, 8 triples and 10 home runs (.814 OPS) in a hitter friendly ballpark. His road splits are very concerning…. .259/.304/.410/.715 with 6 home runs.

Jim Hendry made the promise that he would find Murton a new home during the off-season. Reportedly Hendry is actively shopping Murton and the Padres appear interested as well. As mentioned a Murton for Byrd trade could fill needs for both teams and would give Matt Murton a better place for him to hit (.322/.397/.521 with 6 home runs and a .918 OPS away from Wrigley last year). Any trade with Texas for Byrd that involves more than Murton would not be a good way for Jim Hendry to give a fine ball player a fresh start.

Matt Murton could end up being a productive big league ball player, if given the opportunity to play everyday in the right situation. Peter Gammons saw something in a young Murton, “Watch him hit, and you will think of Edgar Martinez. Disciplined, can run and is a third or fourth-place hitter in the major leagues.” So maybe we, the Faithful, see what the best baseball writer of our generation saw in Murton just a short time ago.

While Murton has yet to have a breakout season, and maybe he never will, the promise still exists. Isn’t that what the definition of a prospect is anyway? Murton, however, has shown he can hit at the highest level, unlike most of the names mentioned by such publications as Baseball America, and should not be undervalued.

Quote of the Day

"Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow." - Plato
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