COMMENTARY | The Chicago Cubs' roster isn't loaded with household names. In fact, several of their most recognizable players are now plying their trade for other clubs. Their lone All-Star isn't even the most famous Wood associated with the team.
But just as he spent the time around the trade deadline wheeling and dealing, Theo Epstein was busy in the offseason as well. He picked up several undervalued veterans who have made quite an impact on the field without affecting the bottom line.
Despite a declining batting average, Nate Schierholtz has proved to be a solid, if not spectacular, right fielder. Dioner Navarro has seen his power numbers eclipse career marks, all while serving as the backup backstop. Of course, Schierholtz is actually arbitration-eligible, while Navarro was signed to a minor league deal.
But the player the Cubs most need to re-sign is…
Not since Ron Santo was clicking his heels after wins have the Cubs truly had a cornerstone at the hot corner. Aramis Ramirez came closest, hitting 239 homers and driving in 806 runs in his 8+ years with the Cubs (wow, was it really that long?), but he was never viewed as "The Man."
Now, am I trying to say that Donnie Murphy is the next Ronnie, or even A-Ram? No. With only 640 plate appearances in parts of 7 seasons with 4 teams prior to arriving in Chicago, Murphy is probably destined to be the next Manny Trillo. Or Domingo Ramos. Or Vance Law.
Those players have largely been lost in the annals of Cubs history, and Murphy probably will be, too. But his value to the team is not in being the future, but, rather, it's in holding the spot for the next man up. Whether it's Olt (unlikely), Baez (he'll be with the Cubs soon enough, but will it be 3B?), or Bryant (most likely), the future is coming. It's just not here yet.
Murphy has established himself as the de-facto leader of the best three-headed monster Chicago has seen since Bill Wennington, Luc Longley, and James Edwards patrolled the paint for the Bulls in the '90s. As such, the Cubs' third-base trio has racked up 29 home runs, good for 4th-best in the majors at the position.
In only 121 at-bats with the Cubs this season, Murphy has belted 10 long balls, which is a pace that would put him right between Barry Bonds and The Babe on the all-time AB per HR list (though he's about 2,866 plate appearances short of qualifying). So while that number is sure to fall off, likely hard and fast, Murphy has shown that the L.A. Dodgers' Mr. Mattingly is not the only Donnie Baseball.
So if he's not the future, why is it so important to bring him back? Well, that's precisely why you bring him back. Murphy has experience, and he's proved that he can perform when given the chance. But he was picked up on a minor league contract and, while he'll certainly command a raise, he'll still be expendable when the Next Big Thing is ready.
Murphy is a low-risk, high-reward player. If he does perform well, you give those aforementioned prospects more time to mature. If he doesn't continue to light the baseball world on fire, the Cubs can promote one of the younger guys without much grumbling. Well, unless that young guy happens to be the next Josh Vitters.
If nothing else, Murphy has surely added some excitement to a season that had been languishing in the doldrums. In a sport where sure things are rare at best, re-signing Donnie Murphy is a win-win for the Cubs.
Evan spent his formative years on a farm and a sleepy town in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And, yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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