This season for the defending Chicago Cubs can be described in one word: Average. Through 78 games they are 39-39 and second in the National League Central division, one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers. While they’re playoff chances are still great, the locker room atmosphere say otherwise.
After Tuesday night’s loss to the Washington Nationals where the Cubs allowed a whopping 7 stolen bases, catcher Miguel Montero spoke out about why his night was so difficult.
“It really sucked because the stolen base goes on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, Miggy can’t throw anybody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough. … I don’t get a chance to throw. That’s the reason they were running left and right. They knew he was slow to the plate, simple as that.”
Known for his slow and methodical pitching motion even from the stretch, Jake Arrieta is one of the easier pitchers to steal a base on in the major leagues. Cubs manager Joe Maddon is aware of the situation and also knows there’s not much he can fix mid-season with Arrieta.
“It’s an imperfect situation,” Maddon said. “It’s not about the move to first, it’s about time to the plate more than anything. Arrieta is a little slow, really gathers, his leg comes up high. It’s something he works on. There are times when he’s quicker or better, but with guys like Trea Turner, who are premier runners, it’s really difficult. The best antidote is to keep Turner off the bases.”
Before noon the next day, Montero was released from the Cubs and was being slammed by his former teammates. First Baseman Anthony Rizzo took quite the exception to Montero’s comments and responded with a few words of his own.
“It’s frustrating,” Rizzo said. “Whenever anyone steals seven bases, Miggy gets frustrated. It’s the second time barking in the media and not going to his teammates. As a veteran like he is, you’d think he’d make smart decisions about it.”
“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” Rizzo said. “When you start pointing fingers, that just labels you as a selfish player. I disagree. I think we have another catcher who throws out anyone who steals. and he has Jon Lester who doesn’t pick over, that’s no secret. I think going to the media with things like that, I don’t think it’s very professional.”
With the pressure mounting on the defending World Series champions, Montero’s comments were ill-timed and unneeded for a team that is struggling to find their identity. This move may also may have bigger implications than just controlling the locker room.
Jake Arrieta becomes a free agent after this season and is looking to receive a deal similar to the Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer (7 years, 210 million) and the Cubs will be looking for a hometown discount on the opposite end. With the franchise publicly backing their staff ace, this may play big when deals are being made.
As for Montero, the 33 year-old catcher will quickly find employment elsewhere due to a premium on serviceable catchers that can compete on the major league level. Batting an exceptional .286 off the bench he’ll be an asset to a playoff contender or a franchise looking for a placeholder until they can call up their prospect.
Teams that can possibly be looking to pick Montero up are the Oakland Athletics who recently released former all-star Stephen Vogt, the Washington Nationals whose backup Jose Lobaton is batting a pedestrian .141 this season. The final team is the Philadelphia Phillies who are awaiting the arrival of prospect Jorge Alfaro from the minor leagues.
Though things ended on a sour note in Chicago, Montero was more than gracious about the situation on Twitter.
“To the city of Chicago: Dear fans, today I say goodbye to the greatest fans. I want to thank you for the support. It was an awesome ride. Winning the World Series was simply fantastic. Thank you to my teammates – good luck to everyone of you. Thank you also to each staff member, it was an honor to play for the Chicago Cubs organization. Chicago will always be in my heart.”
The Cubs will now will have to refocus their attention back on their season in hopes that they can recapture the magic of last season and make the playoff to have a chance to defend their title.