The Cubs have made their first trade of the 2016 season, acquiring left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and minor league pitcher Jordan Pries from the Seattle Mariners for minor league first baseman Dan Vogelbach and minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn.
Who is Mike Montgomery? For all the talk about the Cubs possibly trading for Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, or Sean Doolittle, Montgomery came out of seemingly nowhere and became the much-needed left-handed reliever the Cubs were seeking. Montgomery is 27 years old but is only in his first full season in the majors. He debuted in June of last year and made 16 starts for the Mariners, going 4-6 with a modest 4.60 ERA.
In 2016, he started the year by making 30 relief appearances before getting two starts recently on July 10 and 17. He has a 2.34 ERA in 61.2 innings and has been more than a situational lefty: Of his 30 relief appearances, he went at least one full inning in all but three of them. He’s been consistent, giving up more than one earned run only twice in those 30 relief outings. Only one of those has come since April 11, as he gave up three runs in one-third of an inning on June 2 in a 16-13 Seattle win at San Diego. Left-handed batters are hitting .164 against Montgomery; right-handers are batting .244.
What did the Cubs give up in Vogelbach? Vogelbach is the first significant prospect the Cubs have traded away in an attempt to bolster the major league roster in the Theo Epstein era. Once considered a big time prospect, he came into 2016 as the 20th ranked prospect in the Cubs’ system and trending downward after an uninspiring 2015 campaign in Double-A. But at age 23, he’s taken a big step forward at Triple-A Iowa this year, batting .318 with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs.
Who are the other players involved? The Cubs also sent Blackburn to the Mariners. The 22-year-old right-hander was 6-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 18 starts at Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs received Pries, a 26-year-old right-hander who had a 5.14 ERA combined at Double-A and Triple-A this season. Neither is considered an impact prospect.
Did the Cubs give up too much for Montgomery? Vogelbach had no future with the Cubs’ big league club and it was inevitable they would trade him for help in other areas. Vogelbach is not known as a good defender, and even if he was adequate at first base, the Cubs are already set there for the foreseeable future with Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach is more likely to succeed as a designated hitter in the American League, and though the Cubs probably could have gotten a little more for him, it’s good that they got a useful major league piece that can help them immediately. In fact, since he’s had a surprisingly good season at Iowa, perhaps we could say the Cubs did well to sell high on him.
How does Montgomery fit in with the Cubs? Montgomery doesn’t have much of a track record prior to this season and therefore was cheaper than some of the other southpaws on the trade block around the league. But if he continues to pitch like he has so far this year, he will help the Cubs’ bullpen tremendously. And since this is his first full season in the majors, the Cubs could control him for another five years. But that’s not an immediate concern right now.
What we need to keep in mind is that, even if Montgomery keeps pitching well, the Cubs likely aren’t done making moves, even in the bullpen. It is now less likely that they will trade for Miller or Doolittle, but we have to believe that at least one more bullpen move is coming. There are just too many other question marks out there to be content with the status quo.
Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.