Miguel Montero is an catching veteran entering his 12th season in the majors and has been a member of the Chicago Cubs since 2015 when the two-time All-Star and MVP vote recipient came to the Windy City from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Make no mistake, the Cubs would not be World Series winner without Montero’s contributions at the plate during last fall’s legendary playoff run. His grand slam home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS propelled the Cubs toward the National League pennant.
Of the four catchers on the Cubs' roster last season, Miguel Montero finished third in OPS (.684) behind Willson Contreras (.845) and David Ross (.784). This year, David Ross is retired, but Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras are both on the roster for the Cubs catcher. Montero is showing promise with a .316/.370/.474 in 20 plate appearances against Contreras’ .262/.311/.405 in 45 plate appearances. Kyle Schwarber is the third string catcher (plays outfield), and while hitting .232/.368/.446 as a leadoff hitter, his dWAR stands at -0.4 with Montero at -0.1 and Contreras’ +0.3 dWAR.
Statistics would indicate that Montero is replaceable at catcher defensively, and his offensive WAR numbers give just a touch of incentive at 0.2 oWAR to keep him around as a pinch hitter or a guy to give Contreras a day off. Montero with the salary of $14 million for the final year of his Cubs contract is getting paid $13.5 million more than Contreras. The way that the Cubs brass talks about Montero as a veteran presence in the clubhouse might give some insight as to him having more value to a young team looking for leadership.
Miguel Montero did something taboo after the celebrations subsided for the World Champion Chicago Cubs last November, he criticized the team manager Joe Maddon. Montero’s Criticisms were regarding the over-use of closer Aroldis Chapman, and his under-utilization throughout the playoffs and World Series. Talking on the Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Montero was not pleased with how he was used down the stretch.
"I think the toughest part for me is they never communicated with me, I'm a veteran guy. They talk about veteran leadership. I have 11 years in the game and two All-Star [appearances]. I expected to be treated a little better. I was expected to get communication. Just let me know. Put me in the loop. That was the toughest part for me because I never understood what my role was going to be."
It seemed the guy who was responsible for keeping the Cubs from an 0-3 hole in the NLCS, who is also the guy who put the final eighth run on the board to keep the 11th inning out of reach for the Cleveland Indians, seemed a bit ungrateful for his opportunity with the Cubs in the playoffs. All this considering Contreras had been given the bulk of the playing time, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Montero did get to catch the final 2 innings of the seventh game of the World Series, and was the catcher on the field for the final out of the 2016 World Series.
Cubs management sees Miguel Montero as their clubhouse leadership for the 2016 season. With the retirement of David Ross, the Cubs are in need of a veteran presence in the young Cubs clubhouse, and Montero fits the bill. He takes time to work with Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber to make them better players and more complete catchers. The Diamondbacks described Montero as a clubhouse leader, he elaborates in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times;
“I was with the Diamondbacks for a long time. They said I was a leader in the clubhouse. I don’t know. That’s what they said, but I don’t care. I want to be accountable to my teammates. Simple as that. They need me, I’m there for them.’’
Miguel Montero’s 284 plate appearances in 2016 was the fewest since 2008 when he was a third-year catcher with the Diamondbacks. He reduced his strikeout ratio from 25% in 2015 to 20% in 2016 despite the reduction in at-bats. The question is for the Cubs, as their sixth-highest paid roster player for 2017, can the Cubs afford the reduction in defensive performance just to keep Montero in the lineup instead of an up and coming catcher such as Victor Caratini for a defensive upgrade? Caratini is hitting .313/.377/.458 for Triple-A Iowa, with a strikeout rate of 19% in 2016 and 8% so far in the 2017 season.
The Cubs have placed value on leadership for the catcher position over defensive prowess. 33-year-old Montero can’t do defensively what 25-year-old Contreras can do, and is incomparable with the offensive advantage of 24-year-old Kyle Schwarber. With the little bit of offense that Montero still has, the Cubs could leverage the veteran catcher as trade bait for a bullpen piece, or even another veteran presence. The Cubs are severely lacking defensive prowess early on in the season, and cannot afford to lose Contreras behind the dish until the offense gains traction. This puts pressure on when and how the Cubs can afford to put Montero in as a starter.
Montero doesn’t have the clout or class that David Ross had, which can be seen at how readily he criticizes the team for starting a catcher that has obvious defensive advantages. The catcher who was the difference in the playoffs and was on the field for the final out cannot accept the fact that he is no longer performing at a level of a starting catcher. The bitter tone his words take on in the media interviews reflects a man who isn’t happy being relegated to a mostly bench presence. Even with the World Series Ring, it wasn’t enough for Montero to see and accept his role as the veteran backup catcher, and that can be problematic in the clubhouse. Whatever advantage the Cubs are looking for in Montero, neither his words nor deeds have entrenched him as the replacement for David Ross’ veteran leadership.
His words ring cold and bitter. It is in this writer’s opinion that the Cubs should be looking to deal him for an upgrade, before Miguel Montero ceases to be an asset and begins to be a hindrance in the clubhouse. David Ross was special, he saw his role as the backup catching veteran, and took it upon himself to accept it and enjoy the ride to a Championship. Montero has indicated with his words that he is incapable of accepting that kind of role, and would be better off somewhere else, for the betterment of his prospects, as well as that of the Cubs.
The young Cubs' catcher core might still need some instruction, but Montero is not the answer for a team already showing signs of defensive lapse. Even though the window for another championship remains open for the Cubs, Miguel Montero is not a building block, and should be allowed to find greener pastures in his defiance of his role as veteran backup.