In the trade-heavy period between the All-Star break and the July 31 trade deadline, we have our first major deal:
In Maldonado, the Cubs receive an experienced catcher who is well above average defensively following an injury to regular starting catcher Willson Contreras. The Royals supplement their pitching depth with the addition of Montgomery, who was a reliable reliever for several years with the Cubs before struggling to a considerably greater extent this season, and who has two years of team control left even after this season concludes. The trade fits the current state of both clubs as the Cubs look to capitalize on a closing window of contention and the Royals continue their quest to add younger pieces who are at or near major league level in return for the assets they currently have. In a way, the trade completes two full circles of sorts, as Montgomery returns to the organization which drafted him, and the Cubs were rumored to be in on Maldonado before the Royals signed him in response to Salvador Perez’s Tommy John surgery.
The Royals gain a pitcher who boasts flexibility, as he moved in and out of the rotation in Chicago and also served in long relief. Montgomery has experience in the bullpen and starting as a result, meaning he could slot into a rotation slot that is now empty after dealing Homer Bailey just as easily as he could join a bullpen which is struggling mightily. A change of scenery may be beneficial for Montgomery, as 28.6% of all fly balls he allowed this season flew out for home runs, nearly doubling his career high. While he has also posted career low ground ball rates, meaning that he has had trouble keeping the ball out of the air to compound the home run issue, Kauffman Stadium is decidedly not a home run park, which should only be beneficial to Montgomery. In Kansas City, Montgomery has a much lower-pressure environment in which to figure himself back out, which he was not afforded in Chicago. One interesting potential role for Montgomery would be as a pitcher who comes in after an opener, an experiment which could work very well for the Royals with a pitcher like the recently reinvented Kyle Zimmer serving as the opener. Being 30 years old now, Montgomery looks to serve as a flexible veteran for the Royals assuming they can recover his pre-2019 form, and that’s an excellent return for half a season of Maldonado.
On the Cubs side, the trade opens several doors and clears up some logistical concerns as well as adding a more experienced catching option to the young duo of Contreras and Victor Caratini. Montgomery has no minor league options left, so the Cubs had no ways to attempt to correct his struggles but to keep sending him out of the bullpen, which continued to prove ineffective. Now, the Cubs have an additional bullpen spot, and they have plenty of young arms who have all been AAAA type relievers and will have more opportunities to shine on the Major League Level: Alec Mills, Randy Rosario, Adbert Alzolay, Carl Edwards Jr., Duane Underwood Jr., Dillon Maples, James Underwood, and Rowan Wick, to name a few. The Cubs don’t have many bullpen pitchers with Minor League options, but they will most certainly make the most of what they have to work with, and clearing at least one pitcher out of that log jam doesn’t hurt.
Regarding the catcher position for the Cubs, there are several potential implications of the trade. The most worrisome is that the injury which recently sent Contreras to the IL, a strain in his foot, is more major than it appears to be, although all sources currently indicate that this isn’t the case:
Assuming the most likely scenario, Contreras’s return, leaves us with several possibilities yet. First, the Cubs notably employed three catchers, including 39 year old David Ross, on their 2016 championship team, a strategy which they could look to use again with Maldonado as a better defensive option than either Contreras or Caratini. It seems more likely that they will roll without Caratini, though, which means they will do one of two things: use his remaining option to send him to Triple-A, or include him in a trade yet this month. In a trade scenario, Caratini could be a very attractive piece: he’s already one of the better backup catchers in baseball, is only 25 years old, and is in his final Pre-Arbitration year in 2020, meaning that a team would get four years of control beyond this season. With that in mind, it’s even possible that the Cubs use Caratini as a negotiating piece to also trade a player with an exorbitant salary who otherwise wouldn’t be attractive on his own but still has some potential, such as Tyler Chatwood. This is a hopeful trade still, as it would give the Cubs financial flexibility while possibly also netting a meaningful return. The most likely scenario is that the Cubs employ Caratini’s final option to send him to Triple-A, keep him a member of the organization, and reap all of his aforementioned value for themselves. In any case, Maldonado will serve an important role in his stint in Chicago, even when Contreras returns.
This is a trade that, even in the short term, appears very good for both teams. The Royals net an established pitcher in Montgomery, and the Cubs get an experienced catcher with defensive value. It’s possible that Montgomery doesn’t find his way back to his form from before 2019, or that Maldonado is only minimally valuable to the Cubs with his below-average bat, but those weren’t the focuses of each team when making the deal. This is exactly the type of deal that each club is seeking to make during the trade season, and there’s every reason to believe that both teams will benefit from it accordingly.