Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

All good things must come to an end... unfortunately, sometimes it's an unceremonious end.

Miguel Montero should be remembered for the epic grand slam he launched in Game One of the NLCS against the Dodgers, a moonshot which got Wrigley rocking so much that it might have registered on the Richter scale.  In an instant, what seemed like a deflating, choking loss turned into a moment for the ages.

Miggy should be remembered for driving in a key insurance run in the top of the 11th of Game 7 of the World Series.  This bases-loaded single seemed almost superfluous in that moment; but, it was that insurance run which turned out to be the margin of victory in the Cubs' historic, drought-ending win.  Without Miggy Montero's bat, perhaps the Indians take the Cubs into extra, extra innings and flip the script - Chicago would still be in mourning.

Monty should be remembered for being a steady veteran influence on a young, hungry team which quickly and unexpectedly shifted from rebuild to "win it all" mode.  Along the way, he embodied this newfound Cubbie swagger with his extremely marketable, hash-taggable slogan, "#WeAreGood."  Heck, he should even be remembered for his fun and sporadic, damage control pitching appearances. These are all significant moments in franchise history for which we Cubs fans should remember the name Miguel Montero fondly.

Instead, at least for now, the only reason Northside fans will remember his name is for running his mouth a bit too much.

Last night, after Trea Turner tied his own franchise record for stolen bases in a single game (with seven swipes), Miggy unloaded his frustrations on the covering media.  Instead of taking even some responsibility for the National's track meet on the base paths, Montero angrily unloaded on his pitcher, Jake Arrieta, and the rest of the staff for their slow deliveries to the plate.  While Jake is not the quickest to deliver, it should be noted that Miggy his 0-fer the season when it comes to throwing out runners and has one of the slowest "pop" times in baseball.  In short, while there is some truth to the statement, to unload the blame (through the media, at that) on the pitching staff while shrugging off his own role did not sit well with the team.  Even the unofficial team captain, Anthony Rizzo, admonished him, via a radio interview.

It should be made clear that this isn't the first instance of Miggy going to the press to vent his frustrations.  In the midst of a celebration for the ages, the Cubs World Series parade, Montero complained to reporters that manager Joe Maddon was dishonest and didn't properly communicate with him about his usage down the stretch.  Again, while there may be nuggets of truth in that statement, during the world's seventh largest gathering of people and through the press corps was probably not the best avenue through which to communicate it.

As such, Theo and Co. and their hammer struck quickly and designated the veteran back-up for assignment - all but assuring the end of his Cubs tenure.  I must admit, while I was sure that Montero's days were numbered after those comments, I did expect such swift justice.  Hopefully, time heals all wounds, because Montero will always be one of the men who helped to end the longest championship drought in Chicago history.  For his part, Miggy doesn't appear to have taken the move too personally:

Of course, we know that Miggy's issues lie not with the fans or media, but with his own teammates.

At any rate, with the DFA, the Cubs suddenly found themselves in need of a new backup catcher.  Obviously, Willson Contreras, one of the best young and energetic catchers in the game, will sop up most of the time behind the dish; but he cannot do it alone.  The answer as to who would fill this newfound vaccum was found in Iowa - as in, the Iowa Cubs.

Victor Caratini was acquired from the Atlanta Braves org by the Theo Epstein administration on July 31, 2014, in the waning hours before the trading deadline.  I can forgive if you do not remember the deal, as those were some pretty dark times for Cubs fans and the names on the move were anything but sexy:  Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell.  The young catcher was only halfway through his second professional season, after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft.  Full of potential, he was still only in A-level ball and was something of a lottery ticket prospect - I mean, what more could you possibly get for these spare-parts?

Shortly thereafter, I found myself in one of my local card shops (the Joliet location of the Baseball Card King, if you're curious) in search of new additions to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  On the top level, they had a bunch of recent sets in boxes on the top shelves and I found myself absent-mindlessly picking through them.  One of the sets for which most of the cards were there was the 2013 edition of Panini's Elite Extra Edition, one of their challengers to Topps' Bowman products.  While flipping through, I noticed a newly familiar name, Victor Caratini, on his first (albeit logo-less) professional baseball card.  For spare change, I decided to take a flier myself and hang onto it, just in case he should develop properly and make it all the way to Wrigley Field.

Well, as of the morning of June 28, 2017, approximately three years later, that gamble proved to be a smart one.  Into the CATRC this long queued card will now go.

Of course, since that time, Caratini has blossomed into a blue chipper in an already talented prospect pool.  After stints at AA and the Arizona Fall League, Victor has exploded into Cubs fans' consciousness with a true breakout performance at AAA.  With the Iowa Cubs, the catcher has posted an eye-popping .343/.384/.539 slash line, coupled with 8 home runs and 20 walks in 68 contests.  At this point, even Iowa manager, Marty Pevey, recently acknowledged that Victor was MLB-ready.  On the heels of a .291/.375/.405 campaign with the AA Tennessee Smokies, even Topps knew he was was close:

They made sure to include him their 2015 crop of Bowman Chrome, thus making his first baseball card appearance as a Chicago Cub.  The moral of this story is that while I may have rolled the dice and won on my low-cost flier, my Panini Caratini is going to need to be upgraded in the near future, either with the super shiny prospect card that you see above or perhaps by his MLB rookie card, if he should stick around the Bigs long enough to earn one in Update.  So, if you have a spare on one these for trade, please keep me in mind.

On that latter point though, I do not think Victor will be with the Cubs through the end of the season or long enough to earn a rookie card.  While they have certainly not played up to their potential so far in 2017, the Cubbies still find themselves in the thick of the NL Central race and will definitely be buying at the trade deadline.  Furthermore, while his bat is definitely ready for a trial at the top rung, scouting reports on his work behind the plate leave something to be desired.  In all actuality, he may not be much of an upgrade on Montero (for now), in that regard.  Honestly, if Montero had just kept his thoughts to himself, Victor likely wouldn't be here until September, at the earliest.

With that in mind, I fully expect to be adding a veteran backup catcher to my CATRC binder before the July 31st trading deadline.  In fact, Detroit's Alex Avila has already been floated as a possible target by MLB Network's Jon Morosi and Derek Norris just recently cleared waivers after his own DFA.

 Will I have to track down an Alex Avila or a Derek Norris for my collection?  Only time will tell.

With that in mind, it is still my hope that Victor Caratini comes up and takes the backup catcher role with authority - allowing the Cubs brass to focus on other needs, namely a starting pitcher or two who can actually provide some quality innings.  First inning runs and short starts are constantly putting the erratic offense in a hole, right off the bat.

On the other side of the coin, I wish nothing but the best of luck to Miguel Montero in whatever Major League city he might end up.  Maybe the Cubs will be able to extract someone of value or a lottery ticket from a similarly catching-strapped team, although the seven million dollars left on Miggy's contract may keep teams waiting until he makes it all the way through waivers - we shall see.  At any rate, I hope this World Series hero lands on his feet... and also learns not to throw his teammates under the bus - remember the golden rule, Mr. Montero.  It is my hope that the decidedly unpleasant end of his Cubs tenure will be nothing but a footnote in franchise history.  Again, we shall see how this plays out.

In conclusion, thanks for the memories Miguel and good luck Victor!  Here's hoping this roster shake up is the jolt of energy that this lately listless Windy City lineup needed.


  1. So Montero can't throw people out and you are thinking about picking up Norris? Norris was the catcher in one of my favorite baseball games ever:

  2. I enjoyed Miggy's time with the Cubs -- he had several huge moments, as you said -- but for some reason I just got the feeling that he never *quite* fit in with what the Cubs were trying to build. I didn't think there was any way they could keep him around for much longer after his comments yesterday, and I'm glad I got to see Caratini's first at-bat tonight.

  3. I was not a fan of Miggy so I'm glad the Cubs got rid of him. He was instrumental in a beaning of Cutch a few years back in Arizona. Unwritten rules guys are annoying. Plus I couldn't stand that sprint to first base after a walk.

  4. Leave Avila in Detroit. He's ours to loathe.