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Murton's powerless as Cubs mull trades
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

A line drive eludes Cubs outfielder Matt Murton at Wrigley Field.

 

Daniel White | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/17/2008 12:09 AM

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MESA, Ariz. -- For all you Internet surfers out there, know that you have pretty good company.

Cubs outfielder Matt Murton revealed Saturday he is a regular on mlbtraderumors.com.

"It's not fun," he said with a laugh.

Now Murton probably enjoys the Internet as much as the next guy. It's just that he wound up reading a lot about himself all winter as trade rumors swirled about him.

And truth be told, if a trade were to happen, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the 26-year-old Murton.

"I don't want to sit here and say I would be against being traded," he said. "Of course, you'd love to be here and be a part of things. But it is a numbers game. If an opportunity presents itself somewhere else, then I'll thank the Cubs for what they've done for me over the last few years and go forward."

The reason Murton wouldn't mind being traded -- although he insisted Saturday he won't ask for a trade -- is that his path is blocked by established veterans.

A left fielder by trade, Murton can't start there because Alfonso Soriano is in the second of an eight-year contract that pays him $136 million.

The Cubs tried Murton in right field for a bit last year, but now that spot is filled for at least the next four years by Japanese sensation Kosuke Fukudome.

Rumblings in the off-season were that after the Cubs signed Fukudome in December, general manager Jim Hendry told Murton they'd try to move him to a place where he could play left field regularly.

"I've probably heard everything everybody else has heard," Murton said. "I have heard the possibility of being traded. It's something I've dealt with already. I learned it early. I was a year into professional baseball when I got traded over here.

"There has been some discussion, not necessarily directly with Jim but just in general, and through those discussions was the understanding that there is a possibility I would be moved."

Murton is the type of player the Cubs have been accused of as not properly valuing. That is, he's a player with a high on-base percentage, a stat the Cubs only now seem to be thinking of as important. Murton sports a lifetime OBP of .365.

In 94 games last season, when Murton also saw time at Class AAA Iowa, he put up an OBP of .352 to go along with a .281 batting average and 8 home runs. About the only knock is that he doesn't hit for enough power to play a corner outfield spot. Murton's lifetime slugging percentage is .455, giving him a respectable OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .820.

"I think it really comes down to some slight adjustments," he said of hitting with more power. "I don't think that you'll ever lose the ability to hit if it's something you've done your whole life."

Manager Lou Piniella chose his words carefully about what the Cubs would do with Murton if they keep him.

"Look, that's a good question," Piniella said. "I like Matt. We've got Soriano in left. We've Fukudome in right. Right now, he's basically a fourth outfielder. I don't know what else to say. We'll see how that works out this spring. But we can use him in right to rest Fukudome. We can use him in left to rest Soriano. That's it right now."

As much as Murton said he loves playing in Chicago, he again displayed refreshing honesty on the subject of being a career bench player.

"The reality of it, being completely honest, I'm 26 years old," he said. "I came into baseball at the major-league level at 23. I've done pretty well, but I honestly believe I've just begun to scratch the surface. I think there's a lot more out there for me to accomplish. That being said, I think that in order to accomplish those things, I've got to get a chance to be on the field.

"The other thing we all know is that at 26 years old, if I'm on the bench for another two or three years, by the time I'm 28 or 29, I think it's a safe bet to say you'll be a bench player. So these next few years are big for me in terms of establishing myself as an everyday player. But right now, in the role I'm in, I'm going to be on the bench here in Chicago. It's something that I became accustomed to in the second half last year and started to become a little more comfortable with that role."