As you probably know, this column is (supposed to be) about rules. Most times, the rules are written and clear for everyone to see. Other times, there are unwritten rules, with just as serious ramifications if violated.
As a result of the latter case, Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is temporarily in employment limbo. Let’s look into what happened and speculate why.
Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester has a problem known by even casual fans of the game, being extremely uncomfortable throwing behind runners at first base. As a result, smart opposing baserunners take advantage with longer leads. Of course, that invariably leads to more stolen base attempts and more steals, which fairly or unfairly are also charged to the catcher.
However, when the matter of a Cubs starter not managing the running game properly finally blew up publicly, the target was Jake Arrieta, not Lester.
This matter came to a head on Tuesday night after the Nationals stole seven bases in seven attempts against the duo of Arrieta and Montero, in a game the struggling Cubs lost, 6-1. Trea Turner had four of the seven. In post-game comments to the media, the catcher threw his battery mate under the bus, claiming Arrieta was slow to the plate, thereby making the steals easier to accomplish.
One reason the frustration may have built up is that the veteran Montero has yet to throw out even one baserunner trying to steal in 2017. All 31 to have tried were successful. You don’t need me to interpret that stat for you.
While Montero may have been technically correct in his assessment of Arrieta, even if so, he broke one of sports' most sacred unwritten rules - to always back your teammates publicly. The catcher took the potentially most explosive course of action - short of confronting his pitcher face-to-face, perhaps. Calling out his teammate to the media is about as smart as answering affirmatively when his wife asks him if her new dress makes her look fat.
Instead of taking the high road by not commenting, one of the Cubs’ leaders doubled down on the airing of dirty laundry. First baseman Anthony Rizzo blasted Montero in his own remarks to the media, calling the catcher “selfish” and his comments “unprofessional”. Rizzo also drew an unfavorable comparison between Montero and starting backstop Willson Contreras.
Right again, but the fact Rizzo lashed out himself to the media signaled to me there was a growing fissure in the World Champions’ clubhouse that needed immediate attention.
To that end, action was quickly taken. On Wednesday morning, the club designated Montero for assignment, giving the Cubs 10 days to determine his baseball-playing fate – likely a trade. His roster replacement will be Triple-A catcher Victor Caratini.
So, was Montero really, really stupid (like most seem to agree) or is he crazy like a fox?
His outburst certainly tainted forever the inherent trust so important between pitcher and catcher and turned at least some of his Cubs teammates against him.
But what if Montero doesn’t care? What if he wanted out of town?
No, not because his teammates were scheduled to appear for the second time at the White House Wednesday morning, with their second President! What if he still believes he should be an every-day player – or at least a more active reserve – and decided to force his way out?
For the six years prior to his acquisition by the Cubs before the 2015 season, the now-33 year old had been Arizona’s regular starter behind the plate. The Venezuelan native had twice been named a National League All-Star, including his last season as a Diamondback, in 2014.
By his second year with Chicago, Montero was pushed into a reserve role by the emergence of Contreras. The late career rebirth of folk hero David Ross, Lester’s personal catcher, shoved Montero further into the background.
Last summer, as the trade deadline approached, there were rumors that Montero might be moved, but he remained with the club that went on to win the 2016 World Series, famously breaking the 108-year title drought.
Just maybe, Montero wants to celebrate his 34th birthday, just ahead on July 9, with a new team. After all, his career playing window is rapidly shrinking.
I want to be clear that I am not defending Montero’s actions – just simply wondering if he is really as reckless as he appears on the surface.
My suspicions were heightened when Montero issued a glowing three-part farewell via Twitter to his 154,000 followers, just moments after his banishment was announced. No anger or bitterness was evident, nor was there even a hint of an apology or even any remorse.
“To the city of Chicago Dear fans, today I say goodbye to the greatest fans. I want to thank you for the support.
“It was an awesome ride. Winning the World Series was simply fantastic. Thank you to my teammates - good luck to everyone of you.
“Thank you also to each staff member, it was an honor to play for the Chicago Cubs organization. Chicago will always be in my heart”
To those who think Montero’s reputation will be tarnished by the Arrieta incident, I am not buying it. Contending teams should line up to grab him, especially if he clears waivers, keeping the Cubs on the hook for the vast majority of his remaining 2017 salary of approximately $7 million.
While this divorce may appear especially messy, I predict both parties will quickly realize the benefit of a fresh start – an outcome that Montero himself clearly brought to a head.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.