Matt Murton hoping for one more shot with Cubs


Matt Murton hoping for one more shot with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Murton wants to be more than just a blast from the past in this Cubs camp.

The 34-year-old outfielder knows the clock will strike midnight on his career soon, but he wants to give it everything he's got before riding off into the sunset.

"The way I look at it in life, you get one shot at things," Murton said. "Your window as a ballplayer is short. I'm at a point now where I'm gonna throw it out there.

"I'm gonna give it what I have and I don't want my baseball career to end without having given this an opportunity. I'm just excited for that."

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The former top Cubs propsect has history both with this franchise and with Theo Epstein's front office.

After the Boston Red Sox spent a 2003 first-round pick on him, Murton came to the Cubs along with Nomar Garciaparra in the four-team blockbuster on July 31, 2004.

Murton played just 111 games in the minors for the Cubs before getting called up to the big leagues and hitting .321 with a .908 OPS in 51 games in 2005.

Murton hit .294/.362/.448 (.810 OPS) during his four years with the Cubs before he was traded to the Oakland A's in the Rich Harden deal in July 2008.

Now, he's back in Chicago, hoping to make the club as a non-roster invitee. Things have obviously changed quite a bit in the last decade.

"You look around the room and you realize that you're getting older and they're getting younger," Murton laughed. "I still feel great at 34 years old. There's a lot of young talent here.

"Watching from afar, you see how these guys have done - they come up and they've been really successful. All you wanna do is come in this room and give it what you have and to be an asset to this organization.

"I think every player wants to do that. Whoever it may be or whatever their role may be, you want to find a way to get the most out of yourself, to go out there and compete every day and just see what happens."

If Murton seems a bit philosophical, you'll have to forgive him. He's had a lot of time to think about what a return to Major League Baseball might be like.

Murton spent the last six years playing for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, where he said he was the longest-tenured foreign player in franchise history.

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He found plenty of success overseas, breaking Ichiro's single-season hits record in 2011 and winning a batting title in 2014.

When he first went to Japan, Murton figured he'd only be there for a year or two and always intended to come back to the U.S. After six years, he knew it was time to move on.

He's seen what Wrigley is like firsthand when the Cubs are competitive and with one last shot at a big-league career, jumped at the opportunity.

"Playing for the Cubs is special," Murton said. "The way the city supports the team, regardless of the ups and downs - but especially when the team is doing well - it's maybe one of the most special places to play.

"For me to come all the way back and for this to be an opportunity to put on a uniform, there's no guarantees, of course, but it's just throwing it out there and see what happens."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: