After a less than stellar performance this season backing up starting catcher Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero‘s tenure with the Chicago Cubs came to an end on June 28. Following a horrible game catching Jake Arrieta, in which the Washington Nationals stole seven bases, Montero committed the greatest clubhouse sin: he threw his battery mate under the bus. The distraction, and the selfishness of the player, prompted Theo Epstein to DFA Montero, and call up Victor Caratini for his first cup of coffee.
Cubs DFA Montero, Call up Victor Caratini
The Cubs pitching staff’s issues holding runners has been well-documented, and the majority of pick-offs for outs have been back-picks thrown by Contreras. Montero does not have the skill set to match that. Arrieta’s inability to hold runners, combined with Montero’s dismal caught-stealing and pick-off percentages – 3% and 0%, respectively – this season, it’s been open season for any team with speed. In 29 games this season, he has given up 31 stolen bases and has caught just one runner. This is well below his career average, and also below the league expected value of 28%. This is a dramatic fall-off for a player who once caught 40% of players who ran against him.
Montero is also error prone; he led the league in errors for catchers in 2015, the last year in which he played over 100 games. Even in just 29 games behind the plate this season, he has committed two errors.
In his limited use this year, Montero owns a slash line of .286/.366/.439 in 112 plate appearances, with 28 hits and eight RBI. While his average is improved over last season, his ability to put the ball in play does not outweigh the liability behind the plate and his inability to throw to second.
Some guys have the intangible of being great in the clubhouse, which helps make up for shortcomings in their game. Montero has shown himself to be selfish. Following the 2016 World Series, Montero stated that he was unhappy with his role on the team and with Joe Maddon. He criticized the skipper who brought a World Series banner to the North Side of Chicago for the first time in 108 years. Some thought his unhappiness after obtaining a ring would have been reason enough to DFA Montero during the offseason.
By contrast, Contreras has caught 16 runners attempting to steal on him out of 47 total tries, for CS percentage of 34%, well above the league expected value. His back-picks are also much higher, with six. Contreras does have a tendency to miss his spot when throwing to second or first from his knees, and currently leads National League catchers in errors, with 10. Yet, in the same interview, Rizzo said of Contreras, “We have another catcher that throws everyone out.”
The Decision to DFA Montero
Montero’s second time barking at the media instead of talking to his team mates was the final straw. The Cubs can try to move him for some sort of value over the next 10 days, or grant him a release. However, Montero is a 10/5 player, and has the right to approve a trade.
To replace the veteran catcher, the Cubs called up Caratini from Triple-A Iowa Cubs. This will be Caratini’s first foray into the majors. The switching-hitting catcher leaves Iowa slashing .343/.384/.539. He caught 12 out of 43 runners attempting to steal on him, for a 28% catch rate. Drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves, he entered the Cubs farm system in 2014 via a mid-season trade. The Cubs sent James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves in exchange.