This is the most important moment in Chicago Cubs history. Bar none. If you have even paid semi-attention to baseball over the past five years, I shouldn't have to tell you what is happening in the .gif above. I also should not have to explain to you why this play is so very significant.
The man who tossed the single most significant pitch in the franchise's timeline was Mike Montgomery. Acquired in a trade with Seattle just prior to the annual trade deadline of 2016 (in exchange for 2019 All-Star, Daniel Vogelbach), the former blue chip prospect was a change of scenery candidate who was brought in to provide depth in the bullpen and the starting rotation. Of course, after Aroldis Chapman ran out of gas and Carl Edwards, Jr. lost the strike zone, it was left up to this reclamation swingman to close out the Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, with 108 years of futility weighing heavily on his left shoulder. Just like Theo Epstein and crew scripted, I'm sure.
Thankfully, MiMo came through in the clutch and permanently intertwined his name with Chicago sports history. For the next few seasons, he continued to provide a steady presence in either the pen or the starting rotation, depending on the needs of the club. However, Mike always wanted to be a dedicated starter and did not make this desire a secret. Without a open slot, his time in the Windy City seemed limited and, as of last night, it came to an official close.
Willson Contreras injured the arch of his foot in the first game back after the All-Star game. It was initially expected that Willy would only require a few days of rest off of the bench, an MRI was eventually undergone and a IL stint was deemed necessary in order to properly heal the problem limb. Losing the 2019 All-Star starter for any length of time longer than the minimum 10-days would be a disaster-caliber loss, especially in the midst of the dogfight that is the NL Central. While Martin Maldonado is not anywhere near Contreras' caliber in terms of offensive production,
Martin Maldonado is a nine-year veteran who has plied his trade with the Brewers, Angels, Astros, and Royals. He has only appeared in more than 100 games twice during his MLB tenure, largely due to his career .220/.289/.352 slash line. However, he his often cited as having elite pitch-framing skills - attracting the attention of the Cubs FO this past offseason - and provides a steady, veteran presence in the middle tight pennant race. With Victor Caratini having a breakout season with the bat, Martin need not be anything more than he's been in order to strengthen the roster.
The #Cubs today acquired catcher Martín Maldonado from the Kansas City Royals for LHP Mike Montgomery. pic.twitter.com/XAbrN1gHw3— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 16, 2019
Although, despite the optics and timing, this move might not just be a knee-jerk reaction to an injury... at least, not completely.
Theo Epstein went on the record as saying that while the trade was ultimately consummated as a direct result of losing Willson, the two teams had been discussing the framework of a deal for a some time, before Willy was even achy. This seems to indicate that the trade was originally meant to be more than a straight one-for-one trade, perhaps filling some other gaps on the Cubs roster (i.e. second base and/or a LOOGY). The timeline was accelerated because of the Contreras injury, perhaps the two clubs will continue negotiations and a guy like Whit Merrifield or Jake Diekman is a Cub before the end of the summer. This iron might still be warm.
For what it's worth, the FO have indicated that Willy's IL stint is precautionary and that he shouldn't be out longer than the minimum stay... a sentiment echoed by the backstop himself. On the flip-side, we've heard that company line before...
But, as it stands, Mike Montgomery is once again a Royal and Martin Maldonado is now a Cub. Delightfully, I just so happened to have a pair of Martins in my Angels trade stacks, ready to be considered for inclusion in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.
Oddly enough, both Maldonado pasteboards hail from the same checklist - 2017 Topps Heritage. Well, the one that shows Martin mid-swing is part of the High Numbers addendum - technically, a different product - but, they are essentially the same thing. It's strange for a career-long backup catcher to get any love from the old bubblegum company, let alone this much adoration. Heck, it's eyebrow-raising for anyone to show up in the same product twice in one go. I wonder what happened in the process of reviewing the checklists that allowed for multiple Maldonados?
At any rate, I'm grateful to have not just one Marty, but two to choose from for my CATRC. Though both are posed shots, the clear blue skies and "action" shot on the right definitely catch my fancy. Thus, the High Numbered card # 662 will be holding down Maldonado's spot in my favorite binder, at least until/if the backstop appears on a slip of true Cubbie cardboard.
Coincidentally, Mike Montgomery's rep for my CATRC also hails from '17 Heritage. I guess I have a thing for burlap.
While Montgomery was not effective in 2019 (5.67 ERA in 27 IP with two, separate IL stints) and was not particularly happy with his situation in Chi-Town, it's still sad to see the left-hander move on. As 2016 gets smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror, more and more of the World Series roster are leaving town - Jake Arrieta is a Phillie, Hector Rondon is an Astro, Jorge Soler is also a Royal, David Ross is in the front office and John Lackey and Miguel Montero are retired. That being stated, there's some added sting in seeing the guy who successfully executed the most important pitch in team history empty his Wrigley Field locker. Time marches on and waits for no man.
In closing, I just want to say good luck in Kansas City, Mike Montgomery - here's hoping that you seize this long-deserved opportunity in the Barbeque Capital of the World. Additionally, welcome to Chicago, Martin Maldonado - fingers crossed that he becomes the best back up receiver in the National League... emphasis on backup.
Considering the state of the 2019 Cubs roster, I have a feeling that Martin won't be the only ballplayer we welcome to the Second City this July.