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Murton out (of job) in left field
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/27/2008 12:22 AM

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- To hear Cubs manager Lou Piniella tell it, the roster is set.

That's pretty much true, but things still could change between now and Monday's season opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.

The day began with reporters noticing that nonroster infielder Alex Cintron's locker had been cleaned out. Cintron had asked for and was granted his release, and he may try to catch on with another club.

The upshot is that it appears infielders Ronny Cedeno and Mike Fontenot have made the team and that outfielder Matt Murton is the odd man out.

"We're going to keep both Cedeno and Fontenot," Piniella announced Wednesday morning, although general manager Jim Hendry wasn't quite ready to make the same announcement.

Tuesday's free-agent pickup of outfielder Reed Johnson sealed Murton's fate. Like Murton, Johnson bats right-handed. Unlike Murton, Johnson can play center field.

Over the next few days, Hendry will try to trade Murton, something he has been trying to do without success since December.

But Hendry will not give Murton away. Just as other GMs have tried to squeeze Hendry on deals this off-season, Hendry may take a hard line on Murton and ask for a top prospect or two in return.

If that doesn't happen, the Cubs can option Murton to Class AAA Iowa.

"I don't know what's going to happen here," Piniella said. "Matt's had a good spring. We like him. We needed just a little versatility in the outfield, and that was the idea behind the Reed Johnson move. We're going to carry 12 pitchers.

"Let's see what happens here over the next day or two. If Matt's not here with us, I hope that we can find a major-league job for him because he's a good player, and he deserves that. We'll see what happens."

Murton tried to look at things philosophically.

"I know it's cliché -- all I can do is take it a day at a time," he said. "That's what I learned to do last year. You can't really expect anything in this game. You've just got to believe in your own ability, which I do. Just believe that it's going to work itself out."

Murton wouldn't ask for a trade, but he seems to think he might be better off playing in the big leagues elsewhere.

"I'm a Chicago Cub right now," he said. "It's no secret. There isn't a player in here who doesn't want to play. I think I'm better suited being out there on the field on a consistent basis. That might not present itself here for a while.

"So, if the opportunity presents itself to go somewhere else and I get a chance to play, great. If I'm still here in Chicago, that's great, too."

The final bullpen job comes down to a battle between lefties Sean Marshall and Carmen Pignatiello, with Marshall having the edge with Piniella. Kevin Hart appears to have made it, and that squeezes out Rule 5 pick Tim Lahey. The Cubs will have to put Lahey on waivers, and another team is likely to claim him.

Johnson and Felix Pie will share time in center field, with Alfonso Soriano in left and Kosuke Fukudome in right.

Cedeno can play shortstop, second base and third. Fontenot, a left-handed hitter, is a second baseman, but he impressed Piniella with his play at short this spring.

If the now-dormant trade talks with Baltimore about second baseman Brian Roberts ever start again, Cedeno is a candidate to become an Oriole.

That aside, Piniella seemed happy with both Cedeno and Fontenot.

"They're both good players," Piniella said. "Cedeno can play the middle. He can play third. Fontenot is at second. We need him at second more than anything else. I've got (Mark) DeRosa we can always move over to third.

"So we're in pretty good shape. One's right-handed and one's left-handed. They've both played well here in spring training. That's all I can say."