Speculation has run rampant across the Internet since the Cubs’ season ended that the front office could trade Miguel Montero this winter.
Theo Epstein’s comments about Montero during his end of season press conference did not quiet rumors that the Cubs could move their primary catcher to free up payroll and clear a way for Kyle Schwarber to spend more time behind the plate next year.
“I thought he had an outstanding first half of the season on both sides of the ball,” Epstein said. “He didn’t quite have the same performance in the second half. But he was always in the middle of what we had going on with our game planning, our pitch calling and our pitching infrastructure with his attitude and is an important part of the team.”
Offensively, Montero put up better numbers after he returned from a month-long stint on the disabled list in the second half.
For the season, Montero hit .248/.345/.409 in 113 games with 11 doubles, 15 home runs and a .754 OPS. Over his last 40 games of the year, Montero batted .277/.358/.438 with six doubles and five home runs for a .797 OPS.
Defensively, Montero was among the best catchers in pitch framing. And the Cubs plan on placing an organization-wide emphasis on controlling the running game next Spring Training, a major weakness that was exposed in the NLCS.
Montero is owed $28 million over the next two seasons, $14 million per year, on the five-year, $60 million extension he signed with the Diamondbacks in May 2012.
Epstein answered questions Monday about Montero and his future with the Cubs. Epstein said there have not been any discussions about trading him.
“We have not talked about that at all. He was a big part of helping out run prevention last year. His framing, his pitching calling. We set a record for strikeouts, we were third in ERA. He was a big part of that. It’s not something we’re looking to disrupt at all.”
The Sun-Times reported that Epstein’s comments “doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t move Montero … only that they’d have to find somebody to replace him if they did.”
Behind Miguel Montero, David Ross and Kyle Schwarber on the depth chart is Willson Contreras and he will have a chance in the spring to play in front of Joe Maddon and the big league coaching staff.
Contreras made huge strides this past season and was playing extremely well in the Arizona Fall League before he had to be shutdown with a mild left hamstring strain. Contreras needs more development time and will begin next season as Triple-A Iowa’s starting catcher.
A team with a goal of winning a division crown and playing in the post-season seldom hands over the everyday catching duties to an inexperienced backstop or a receiver with raw skills not yet ready for the big leagues.
As the Sun-Times pointed out, the Cubs would need to have a way to upgrade the position in order to trade Miguel Montero.