Miguel Montero provided Chicago Cubs fans with a thrill in the 2016 MLB Playoffs, swatting a go-ahead grand slam in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That plate appearance, however, was one of just 12 total for Montero during the postseason. He had been relegated to backup duties midway through the regular season with the emergence of Willson Contreras. If the 33-year-old is to get back to full-time catching duties, it would likely be via a trade away from the Cubs. Perhaps Tampa Bay could be a good fit.
In 86 games, Montero slashed .216/.327/.357 with eight home runs and 33 runs batted in (83 wRC+). The former two-time National League All-Star is just one year removed from being the starting catcher for the 2015 Cubs squad that reached the NLCS.
However, with Contreras having a breakout season, and Kyle Schwarber able to back him up, Montero becomes an expendable piece for the powerhouse Cubbies.
Montero has always been known as an offense-first catcher, but his pitch-framing ability is something the Rays would covet. Jason Castro landed a three-year deal worth $24.5 million from the Minnesota Twins for being a quality pitch-framer as opposed to that of a quality hitter; Montero was brought to Chicago three years ago just for that reason.
As Beyond The Box Score’s Matt Goldman outlined, Montero’s pitch-framing was among the best in baseball at the time of the Cubs acquiring him from the Diamondbacks. But this past season a June knee injury forced him out of the lineup. Willson Contreras replaced Montero and homered in the same game, proceeding to slash .282/.357/.488 in an impressive rookie season.
"I've got no options, right? It is what it is," Montero said to MLB.com in late June after Contreras caught back-to-back games. "I just have to take advantage of my opportunities when they come. I'm going to go out there and do my best like I always do."
Despite his relatively down 2016, Montero did average 14 HRs and 63 RBIs from 2009-2015. Since 2006, he has swatted 115 HRs as a catcher so he provides any team with substantial left-handed power. As both Luke Maile and Curt Casali bat right-handed, he could easily take the long side of a catcher platoon.
After parting ways with Jason Hammel, the Cubs have an opening in the rotation behind Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Kyle Hendriks. The Rays are known to be shopping from their surplus pitching; could a Rays starter fetch one year of Miguel Montero?
Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi have the most value in trades. They both come with multiple years of team control and are just 28 and 26, respectively. However, the Rays will likely not want to part with several years of quality pitching for one year of Montero. That leaves Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, and Matt Andriese as possible trade chips.
Both Smyly (shoulder) and Cobb (Tommy John surgery) are coming off injuries that impacted their 2015-2016 production. Smyly is still arbitration-eligible two more times and Cobb just once more before hitting free agency. Andriese – who comes with five years of team control -- is the least proven of the bunch as he’s made 54 appearances for the Rays since 2015.
The Cubs may not want to deal Montero for a starter like Cobb, or even Smyly, with relatively high injury risks. That leaves Andriese as the most appealing, cost-effective, and long-term trade chip for Tampa Bay to offer Chicago in a potential Montero swap.
Of course, the Rays would be reluctant to take on Montero’s $14 million 2017 salary (he hits free agency in 2018), meaning Chicago will need to eat a significant chunk of it in any trade.
Will Montero get traded? Only if the deal is right.
Much like the New York Yankees, who ultimately traded veteran catcher Brian McCann, the Cubs do not have to trade Montero. With Schwarber coming off knee reconstruction and Contreras’ inexperience, Montero provides a solid insurance net for the Cubs in 2017 — much like McCann did before the Yankees dealt him for two pitching prospects.
Montero told FanRag Sports’ Jack Magruder following his grand slam that thought he would be released during the regular season. Now, with the retirement of David Ross, it appears likely he will enter 2017 as the backup catcher for Chicago.
“Baseball is kind of crazy,” Montero told Magruder. “Anything can happen, and then nobody is going to remember what I did in the regular season.”