What if I told you, in the summer of 2006, the Cubs had a left fielder who was all of 24 years old and hit .297 with an .809 OPS in 144 games. In 508 plate appearances he hit 13 HR’s and managed 62 RBI’s. Oh, and by the way, he only committed 3 errors along the way. Mind you, this is his first full big league season.
What if I told you, that in 2010, while playing with the Hanshin Tigers, this same player would break a Japanese League single season hits record held by Ichiro set in 1994.
What if I told you that player was none other than Matt Murton?
Murton came to the Cubs via the Boston Red Sox. To be more specific, he was the “throw in” player included with Nomar Garciaparra in a huge four team/seven player deal. He was a first round draft pick by the Red Sox in 2003 after his college days at Georgia Tech.
In 2005 he made his debut with the Cubs. In 51 games and 160 plates appearances he hit .321 and knocked 7 dingers. He had a .908 OPS in that short period of time.
One thing I will remember about Murton, besides his red hair, was his eye at the plate. He never seemed to swing at a bad pitch, and he worked counts and usually made contact. His walk and strikeout numbers are nothing to write home about but nothing to scoff at either.. He walked 10 percent of the time and struck out 10 percent of the time.
In 2006, Murton’s WAR was 2.1 ….third highest on the team behind Juan Pierre and Aramis Ramirez. The difference is Juan Pierre was making close to 6 million and Aramis Ramirez was pulling down almost 11 million, while Matt Murton was paid $337,000.
Matt was in the Cubs top 4 in almost every offensive category for the 2006 season. He was second in Batting Average and OBP!!!!
Then came 2007 and Alfonso Soriano…..
In a blink Matt Murton was relegated to utility/part-time outfielder and even sent down to AAA Iowa a few times. Over the course of 92 major league games and about half the plate appearances as 2006, Murton bounced between left field, right field, and center field in spot duty roles. His average stayed strong at .281 and his OBP nudged down slightly to .352. Even his batting average at Iowa in 172 plate appearances was .324.
In 2008, with only 42 plate appearances under his belt for the Cubs, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics. Packaged with three other prospects (Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher, and Josh Donaldson) in a trade that brought the fragile Rich Harden and the under achieving reliever Chad Gaudin.
Murton saw very little action with the A’s. After a handful of plate appearances and a stint with the A’s AAA affiliate, the end of 2008 came and he was traded off to Colorado for a minor leaguer in the off-season. Colorado was a similar experience.
The real crux of the situation came after the 2009 season as he ran out of options and was arbitration eligible. With a hefty raise coming there were no teams that wanted to invest in a 27 year old outfielder who hit for contact with average power. His only option at playing everyday at a higher* level then the minors was Japan.
* Murton has even been quoted as saying Japan is like AAAA ball. The big difference from AAA being 55,000 screaming fans vs. a couple thousand.
While many would say Matt Murton was just a casualty of the Soriano signing and a crowded outfield, or maybe they feel he just wasn’t that good and all those stats are misleading, I feel there was more at work here.
In this humble writer’s opinion, an investment in Matt Murton was lacking. As a matter of fact, the only people who ever really invested in Matt Murton were the Red Sox, drafting him with a first round pick. However, the Red Sox had bigger fish to fry when they found the need to part ways with Nomar Garciaparra, who had worn out his welcome in Beantown. Murton was merely the prospect that evened out the deal for the Cubs at the time, and allowed the Red Sox to rake in four new prospects and rid themselves of a bad situation with Nomar.
If Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, or even Tyler Colvin had a season as productive as Murton’s rookie year, Jim Hendry would have raised a banner in tribute the following season over the Wrigley Marquee. However, there was no previous financial investment made for Murton, other then a league minimum salary. There was no first round pick to hang the scouting departments hat on. He was just a “throw in” to a bigger deal. A kicker to make the sting of a handful of prospects in exchange for an aging veteran shortstop go away.
The minor leagues are littered with guys who could be playing at the major league level and succeeding. However, unless they have astronomic numbers, without a commitment and some investment from their organization, they may never see the big league club. This holds true to a greater extent when they are blocked by somebody, either through a larger monetary investment or just time in the organization, even if that somebody has shown less production.
It is situations like Murton’s that make me scratch my head. How do the Aaron Miles and Koyie Hill’s survive in the league and Murton can’t even get a fair shake….or he gets one and proves himself, yet is forgotten???!!!
I firmly believe that if Murton was one of Jim’s guys, drafted in the first round and given a size-able signing bonus, touted by the big league club as somebody to watch and brought up through the system, he would still be playing in a Cub uniform today.