Posted on July 16, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
On the same day they placed a catcher on the 10-day Injured List, the Chicago Cubs acquired a catcher, leaving nothing to chance down the stretch. The Cubs have placed Willson Contreras on the IL because of a strain of the arch muscle in his right foot. Prior to doing so, they acquired Martin Maldonado from the Kansas City Royals, sending left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery to Kansas City to complete the deal.
Contreras missed games on both Sunday and Monday after leaving Saturday’s game. An MRI taken Monday revealed the foot strain. The Cubs don’t expect him to be on the IL much longer than the minimum of 10 days. However, team doctors indicated that Contreras could exacerbate the injury if he continued to play, possibly keeping him out for an extended period of time.
“We have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy’s hands and get him off his feet,” said Cubs President Theo Epstein. “We don’t expect it to be longer than the 10 days — that’s what we hope for anyway.”
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On the season, Contreras is hitting .286 with an OPS of .947. He’s become one of Chicago’s most important hitters, meaning the Cubs can’t afford to lose him for an extended period. But rather than dipping into their farm system and hoping Contreras will be able to return in 10 days, the Cubs traded for Maldonado to help cover all of their bases.
“It was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear Willson was going to miss some time,” Epstein said of the trade. “He’s an established catcher in this league who does a lot of great things behind the plate. He can really receive. He can really throw. He’s handled some of the best pitchers in the game.”
Maldonado is hitting just .226 with an OPS of .657 this season. However, he won a Gold Glove in 2017 and is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, especially when it comes to throwing out runners attempting to steal bases. When Contreras is ready to return, Maldonado will likely replace Victor Caratini as Chicago’s backup catcher, giving the Cubs a strong catching tandem for the stretch run.
Of course, trading for Maldonado didn’t come cheap. The Cubs parted with Montgomery, who is best remembered for recording the final out when Chicago won the World Series in 2016. The lefty, who was originally drafted by the Royals in 2008, has had a rough year pitching exclusively out of the bullpen after missing a month on the IL. In 20 relief appearances, he has posted a 5.67 ERA. However, with the Royals, he should be given a chance to be a starter, which is his preference.
“From a career perspective, looking at how it was taking shape, I thought I was best suited to be a starter,” Montgomery said. “I understood, from who they had here, that might not happen for me.”
Montgomery is under team control for two more seasons, making this a good deal for the rebuilding Royals. More importantly, the Cubs solidified their catching situation with Contreras going to the IL. Maldonado is a great insurance policy in case Contreras doesn’t return quickly. Even if he does, the Cubs, who currently lead the NL Central by two games, have further improved a position of strength on their roster. Ultimately, having Maldonado improves their chances of returning to the playoffs.