Catcher Miguel Montero’s tie-breaking, eighth-inning grand slam made him the hero of the Cubs’ 8-4 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday. The 33-year-old didn’t expect to be in that position, however, as he told FanRag Sports’ Jack Magruder after the game that he thought the Cubs might release him during the season. The Cubs never indicated that was a possibility, though, according to Magruder.
Montero’s currently slated to return to Chicago next season with a hefty salary – $14MM – to conclude the five-year, $60MM extension he signed with the Diamondbacks in 2012. The Cubs reportedly considered shopping Montero last offseason, which was before the two-time All-Star’s playing time markedly declined during arguably a career-worst year. Montero appeared in 86 games, his fewest since 2010, and batted a meager .216/.327/.357 in 284 plate appearances. Both rookie Willson Contreras and veteran David Ross took playing time from Montero during the regular season, and that has continued in the playoffs. Montero’s grand slam was his first hit of this year’s postseason, in which he has collected just five at-bats. He came to the plate Saturday as a pinch-hitter and is out of the Cubs’ lineup Sunday.
Going forward, Ross’ forthcoming retirement seems to bode well for Montero to remain with the Cubs in 2017. Ross’ departure will leave Montero as the Cubs’ only veteran backstop. The team also has Kyle Schwarber on track to come back from a knee injury that cost him almost all of this season. He conceivably could fall directly behind Contreras on the Cubs’ catcher depth chart next year, though there are questions about Schwarber’s defense. For his part, the 23-year-old slugger is “adamant” about factoring in heavily behind the plate, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported in September.
On dividing his time between catcher and the outfield, Schwarber told Gonzales, “I want to get back to that point where it’s 50-50 on each side now and not 60-40.”
Regardless of Schwarber’s goal, the fact that full tears to his ACL and LCL cost him a year to develop further as a catcher might help Montero’s chances of finishing his contract as a member the Cubs. Notably, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein praised Montero’s pitch-framing and game-calling skills after last season, attributing some of the pitching staff’s success to his defensive work. Montero has indeed been an excellent framer throughout his career, which Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner indicate has again been the case in 2016.
We’ll know what 2017 holds for Montero soon enough. In the meantime, he’ll spend the next couple weeks trying to help the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908.
“I probably had a bad year, but I might be the MVP of the World Series,” he told Magruder. “I’m being kind of sarcastic, but in reality you never know. Baseball is kind of crazy. Anything can happen, and then nobody is going to remember what I did in the regular season.”