Murphy feels Cubs set for bounceback season
Veteran third baseman says club motivated by preseason prognosticators
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs have lost 197 games the last two seasons combined, and aren't predicted to finish at the top of the tough National League Central this year. Don't tell Donnie Murphy that.
"Everything you read out there, we're one of the worst teams in baseball," Murphy said on Tuesday. "I think that's a lot of motivation. Twenty-five of us don't think we're the worst team in baseball.
"We all look at [that critique] as a positive and it makes us even more hungry, and we want to prove people wrong," he said. "I think guys will bounce back. Everybody knows [Starlin] Castro isn't that kind of player, everybody knows [Darwin] Barney isn't that kind of player, everybody knows [Anthony] Rizzo isn't a .230 hitter.
"We have guys who can bounce back and put together good years, and you make a decent run, and hopefully get close and make the playoffs. We know what type of players we have in this clubhouse. We just have to put it together."
Murphy, 30, is hoping he's one of the guys who gets a chance to do that with the Cubs. Promoted to the big league club last Aug. 3, Murphy hit a career-high 11 home runs in 46 games, equaling his total between the 2008, 2010-12 seasons combined.
Despite his short time with the Cubs, he finished third among the third basemen in games played and total at-bats, trailing Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom. Ransom signed with a Japanese team this year, but Valbuena is back along with Mike Olt, acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last July.
Valbuena, who batted .218 and hit 12 home runs in 94 games at third, is considered the leading candidate to start there on Opening Day. Olt, who appears to have overcome vision problems, will contend for the job as well.
Murphy hasn't been mentioned much.
"That's fine," he said after a workout with some of the early bird position players at the Cubs' new spring facility. "It means I'm under the radar. That's fine with me. I don't take exception to that. I know there's Valbuena, I know there's Olt. There's going to be competition, but it's fun competition. We're all good friends and it's all good nature."
Murphy got to know Olt this offseason as both spent time in Mesa, taking advantage of the Cubs' new complex. Immediately after the season ended, Murphy underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to take care of a torn meniscus that he'd played through since 2009. He figured now was a good time to get it taken care of. Olt was prepping for 2014 at the Cubs' complex, too, which helped him get to know some of his new teammates.
The third baseman waiting in the wings is Kris Bryant, the Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick last June, who jumped from short-season Boise to Class A Advanced Daytona to the Arizona Fall League last year. The college player of the year, Bryant is the Cubs' future. Murphy isn't looking over his shoulder, worrying about the top prospect.
"I think everybody knows what kind of potential Kris Bryant has but at the same time, we have to go about our stuff," Murphy said. "He's still young and he still has to develop a little bit. Right now, the guys we have here, hopefully we can put it together."
Murphy did just that at Wrigley Field last season, batting .305 with seven of his home runs at the Cubs' home park. He also delivered when needed and hit .333 with four home runs in close and late situations and .314 in the seventh inning or later. On Aug. 7, he hit two home runs, including one with two out and two on in the ninth to break a 2-2 tie.
"Sometimes, I think it's all about opportunity more than anything," Murphy said, "and I think I did get a good opportunity the last two months of the season and put together a good run. I think it was really the first time in my career where I had a two-month span and got to play a lot. It's funny how things work out like that."
Murphy spent most of the season at Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .265 with 12 home runs, 18 doubles and two triples in 89 games.
On Dec. 3, the Cubs signed Murphy to a one-year, $825,000 contract, which gave him some peace of mind.
"I've learned in this game that nothing is given in this game," he said. "To have that comfort level coming into Spring Training, it definitely takes a little stress off you. It's nice to have that in hand but at the same time, I still have some work to do. Nothing is guaranteed. I still have to go out there and perform."
The Cubs will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday to formally open the new facility in west Mesa, which has gotten rave reviews so far. It's all part of the organization taking steps in the right direction.
"Everybody rebuilds," Murphy said. "People just have to be patient. Rebuilds don't take one year. I know Chicago, they haven't had a championship for a while. The reward will be greater in the end if they're patient."
Extra bases: Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took part in organizational meetings on Tuesday with the coaching staffs of both the Major League and Minor League teams plus their scouts.
Among the players working out on Tuesday were Barney, Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, and Travis Wood. Position players don't have to report until Feb. 18, with the first full squad workout the next day under new manager Rick Renteria.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.