New Cubs catcher Miguel Montero certainly knows how to endear himself to Cubs fans.
At this year’s Cubs Convention, a young Cubs fan asked the “Meet the new Cubs” panel the chances of the team breaking its 107-year World Series drought.
The 31-year-old native Venezuela didn’t hesitate, taking the mic and speaking for the entire panel. “We’re here to win,” Montero said. “We’re not going to feel comfortable just making the playoffs. We’re here to go all the way. It’s all or nothing.”
If the Cubs are going to reach that elusive pinnacle, the catcher, acquired December 9 from the Diamondbacks for two Minor League pitchers, is surely going to play a significant role.
FanSided.com ranked the Cubs’ acquisition of the two-time All-Star as one of the five most underrated offseason moves in the MLB. “Confidence is running high in the city of Chicago,” wrote FanSided’s Evan Massey, “and Montero is going to be a pivotal piece to whether or not they succeed this year.”
After also acquiring new ace Jon Lester’s personal catcher David Ross from the Red Sox as a backup, the Cubs have a glut of catchers. The prevailing wisdom is that the club will try to move Wellington Castillo, the team’s primary backstop the last two seasons, before the season starts.
One might reasonably wonder why the Cubs would take on Montero’s remaining three-year, $40 million contract when they already had Castillo, who, at 27, is four years younger than Montero, comes much cheaper at $2.1 million, and puts up similar offensive numbers. Last year, both Montero and Castillo hit 13 homers and posted similar BAs (Montero .243; Castillo .237).
The simple answer, according to a statistical analysis by Whet Moser for Chicago Magazine, is pitch framing. “By StatCorner’s data, Miguel Montero was the best at it in baseball during 2014, saving 24 runs above average last year with his framing skills,” Moser wrote. “Welington Castillo was the second-worst, giving away 24.3 runs above average. By Baseball Prospectus’s data, Montero was ninth-best, and Castillo was sixth-worst.”
In Moser’s “conservative” analysis, “Montero is worth two wins-above-replacement more than Castillo, if you include pitch framing.”
Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson, who won 16 games in 2011 with Montero behind the plate, gives his ex-battery-mate high marks. “Those Cubs pitchers are going to love him because they’re going to get a lot of low strikes,” Hudson told the Chicago Tribune.
One Cubs pitcher who could reap the greatest reward is Edwin Jackson, who has struggled mightily since signing a 4-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs in 2013.The two were teammates on the D-backs, and on June 25, 2010, they combined for a no-hitter.
In an interview with MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, Montero expressed optimism that he can help Jackson turn things around. “When I had [Jackson in Arizona], he was a little bit inconsistent,” Montero told Muskat. “He’s got a really good arm and really good potential to be a Cy Young. Obviously, the way I worked with him, I was on him all the time. I couldn’t stop talking to him for a second, because he’d kind of space out a little bit. I needed to be tough and that’s what I did. Hopefully, I can help.”
The Cubs are also hoping that Wrigley Field will help Montero rebound offensively after seeing his BA dip from a career high of .286 in 2012 to .230 and.243 the last two seasons, respectively. At Wrigley, he has a .327 average in 16 games.
Montero is looking forward to playing regularly in the Friendly Confines. “It’s great baseball when you walk into the stadium — that’s what I like the most,” Montero told MLB.com. “The people are passionate, they know what they’re talking about, they know who you are, they know about you. As a player, you really appreciate that.”
Did you know that Montero’s walk-up song in Arizona was “Chacarron,” a tune that became popular because of its nonsensical lyrics. Check out the song on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njrmL1y3ul8