Miggy the Mentor

We are good. That’s the first thing that many Cubs fans learned about Miguel Montero, who was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Cubs in December of 2014. Montero, now somewhat famously, rushed to Twitter that day to let everyone know how excited he was to be with the young squad of blossoming hitters. And as the season got underway, we began to learn more and more about the catcher we now affectionately refer to as Miggy.

I can still remember reading up about Montero in the wake of the trade, to gather some perspective on the person the Cubs were bringing in to help guide their pitching staff. The thing that stood out to me? Most of the pictures I saw of Montero were of him smiling. Not just a smile, mind you, but an ear-to-ear grin. His face said everything about his enjoyment of the game of baseball, and it was reassuring. With Joe Maddon already on board, I was sure the chemistry the Cubs were building in the clubhouse would be uniquely special.

Looking back, his happiness in being traded to a team coming off of a 73-win season in 2014 is a bit more layered than just him having faith in the rebuild that he had been a part of for all of 12 seconds. Things weren’t exactly working out in Arizona with the team that originally signed him out of Venezuela as an 18-year-old. Despite a run of three years in which he performed like one of the top overall catchers in the league—combining for 19.5 WARP from 2009-2012—he fell out of favor due to some unfortunate circumstances, the full details of which we’ll probably never know publicly.

It started in May of 2012, when Montero signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension to continue to be the rare combination of a good offensive and defensive catcher. Montero had a good season, statistically, but there were a few bumps in the road. Later that year, the Diamondbacks called up 22-year-old top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to start a few games. He didn’t fare too well, but it still appeared as though he had a bright future ahead of him. In the offseason, though, Arizona dealt the young pitcher to the Cleveland Indians. Apparently, according to Montero, it might have been in part because he and Bauer didn’t exactly get along like besties:

“Since day one in Spring Training I caught him and he killed me because he threw about 100 pitches the first day,” Montero said, adding he told Bauer he should take it a bit slower and work on locating his fastball first before working on his breaking pitches.

“And he said ‘yes’, and the next time he threw I saw him doing the same thing,” Montero said. “He never wanted to listen.”

“He’s got his ways, and it’s tough to change it,” Montero said. “Good luck to (Indians catcher) Carlos Santana there.”

In 2013, meanwhile, Montero saw a serious dropoff in his offensive production, from a combined .817 OPS the previous four seasons to .662. That was at least in part due to a lower back injury that would end up costing him 28 games from late July to late August. The D-backs were just a half game out of first place in the NL West at the time of the injury, but they’d fallen to 9.5 games out by the time Montero returned.

He was healthy for the 2014 season and got into 136 games, but his offense didn’t bounce back. He finished the season with a .699 OPS and was now on the wrong side of 30 with three years and $40 million remaining on his contract. With the D-backs finishing 64-98 that season, trading Montero for a few prospects and to get the salary off the books seemed like a good move—prompting them to send him to the Cubs for two pitching prospects.

And so Miggy was at a career crossroads. He could have sulked, having been traded away from the only organization he had known in his then-13-years of playing professional baseball, and no rational adult would blame him. But he didn’t.

Montero went on, of course, to become a fan favorite because of his genuine personality and open presence on social media—something that Cubs fans had never really experienced, to that point. And then came the fateful day that Miggy coined the unofficial slogan of the 2015 season:

Of course, Montero fit the Cubs for more than just his personality. The Cubs front office places a premium on pitch framing, something that the team had struggled with in previous seasons with Welington Castillo behind the plate. Per the Baseball Prospectus framing stats for the 2014 season, with a minimum of 5,000 framing chances:

Player Total Chances Framing Runs CSAA Rank in MLB
M. Montero 8,172 11.2 0.010 7th
W. Castillo 6,661 -15.6 -0.016 25th

Montero didn’t disappoint his new front office, either. As Theo Epstein was quick to point out to fans at the Cubs Convention, Montero was in the top five in pitch framing again in 2015, with 5,558 total chances, 16.0 framing runs and 0.020 caught strikes above average. He was also pretty darn good on the offensive side too, finishing ninth in OPS, eighth in ISO, and fifth in both TAv and BWARP among catchers. Going into quite possibly the biggest offseason in Chicago Cubs history, Montero was one of the few big salaries on the Cubs roster that was practically untouchable, from the front office’s standpoint.

But despite all the good will that Montero earned through his play on the field, the fans he gained through social media, and 97-win season and playoff run he took part in, he may not be the Cubs starting catcher for all that much longer. That’s because the Cubs have a 23-year-old catching prospect named Willson Contreras—who the prospect team recently rated number 57 on the BP 101 list—that is set to go to Triple-A this season. Montero? He’s cool with it. In fact, he raved about Contreras’ defense and his future as a potential all-star catcher while he was on a rehab assignment at Double-A and saw Contreras up close.

That shouldn’t be much of a shock for those who watched Montero interact with Kyle Schwarber throughout the season. Schwarber and the Cubs have been committed to his development at catcher and Montero has offered his full support as well, asking Schwarber to meet up with him in Arizona a month before pitchers and catchers report, according to Carrie Muskat of

“We’re going to work together on defense,” Montero said. “I don’t want to have bats, I don’t want to have anything else. I just want to work on defense.”

“He’s a hard-working guy and such a good kid,” Montero said of the Cubs’ 2014 No. 1 Draft pick. “I really admire his work ethic, and I want to help him be the best he can be behind the plate. I think he can be a catcher in the big leagues. Plus, his bat is a middle-of-the-order bat. We’re looking at many years to come in the Cubs organization as a good defensive catcher and a good hitter.”

When you consider all the factors, which include signing Jon Lester and bringing in Maddon to manage, a case could be made that the trade was at least as impactful on the culture change and the transition from “a team with potential” to “a force to be reckoned with.” Whatever problems Montero had with the D-backs look like water under the bridge now. Whether he’s the Cubs starting catcher for the next two years or simply just until Contreras arrives, Montero seems content to play baseball, help mentor the younger catchers, and have fun. He’s just happy to be a Cub.

Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.

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