The Chicago Cubs continued their 2014 off-season drive to improve the major league roster today through the acquisition of veteran catcher Miguel Montero in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The thirty-one year old catcher is set to make $12 million, $14 million, and $14 million over the course of the next three years. In exchange, the Cubs parted with two low-minor league pitchers – Zach Godley and Jefferson Mejia.
A two-time All-Star, Montero is a power hitting left-handed hitter who has struggled at the plate during the past two seasons. Some view Montero as a platoon partner for current Cubs’ right-handed hitting catcher Welington Castillo. Over the past three seasons, Montero has posted an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .770 against right-handed pitchers, but only .632 versus lefties. Conversely, during this same time frame, Castillo has a .855 OPS versus left-handed pitchers, with a meager .631 OPS against righties. The two catchers would appear to complement each other offensively. The Cubs may decide to trade Castillo to add value in another area because finding a right-handed hitting catcher to complement Montero would be considerably easier and fairly cheap for the team to do. Also, since Montero would play against opposing teams’ right-handed starting pitchers, he would garner the bulk of the at-bats in any platoon. Regardless of who serves as the Cubs’ second catcher, the left-handed hitting Montero adds balance to an otherwise right-handed dominated Cubs’ lineup. Defensively, Montero appears to be an upgrade over Castillo, especially in the area of pitch framing (for more about pitch framing check out podcast Episode 36 here). We will provide a more in-depth look at Montero later in the off-season.
The Cubs did not have to part with any of their highly regarded prospects in order to get this deal done. Godley, who turns 25 in April, was a 10th round pick in the 2013 Amateur draft and pitched at Class-A last season. A right-handed pitcher, Godley projected at best to be a relief pitcher at higher levels. Mejia, on the other hand, has a higher upside. The hard throwing right-handed pitcher, who just turned 20 years old last August, pitched effectively in Rookie ball last year. Watching Mejia in person last spring in Mesa, I was struck by how big he looked compared to other players. Listed at 6’7”, Mejia looked even taller when throwing from the mound. With a ton of potential, Mejia is a name to remember. Fortunately, the Cubs are developing a farm system replete with Mejia-type pitchers.
While the Cubs may have to part with some of their young talent to improve the major league roster, the cupboard is by no means bare. Good teams acquire a surplus of quality players through the amateur draft and international free agent signings both to develop future major league talent and also to effectuate trades. We are now seeing the first dividends of the Epstein-Hoyer farm system both at the major league level (Jorge Soler, Kyle Hendricks, Kris Bryant, etc…) and also through trades such as this one. The Cubs also proved through this trade that they are willing to spend money. In this case, the Cubs assumed all of the salary remaining on Montero’s contract to reduce the cost in terms of the talent level of the prospects that the team had to give up. Had the Cubs insisted that Arizona pay half or even a third of Montero’s remaining deal, the price in prospects would have been much steeper. As a major market team with a ton of revenue as well as a deep and talented farm system, the Cubs are in great position to swing more trades like the one they made today.