Yesterday, we discussed the possibility that the Chicago Cubs would pursue catcher Russell Martin this offseason – I see plenty of upside for the Cubs, even if Martin’s bat falls back dramatically – and there are a couple more reports out there indicating that the Cubs will indeed pursue Martin (Heyman, Mooney). Heyman’s piece, in fact, says that the Cubs will “target” Martin.
The upshot there is that, yes, it appears likely that the Cubs will be in on Martin beyond mere tire-kicking. Good.
But, in fairness, there’s a broader discussion to have before jumping both feet in.
If we believe that Martin’s primary value to the Cubs is predicated on (1) receiving skills, (2) veteran leadership, and (3) potential offensive upgrade at one of the few spots where the Cubs can do that without displacing a long-term piece, then we have to ask: is there anyone else available who fits that criteria? Well, definitely not in free agency, at least not behind the plate. And that probably is true next offseason, too.
But there is an interesting backstop available in trade: Miguel Montero. Reports from Ken Rosenthal and Nick Piecoro indicate that the Diamondbacks would be interested in shopping Montero, and Piecoro’s piece mentions the Cubs, specifically, as a potential suitor.
Montero, 31, is coming off of back-to-back down years at the plate (.295 wOBA/81 wRC+ in 2013, .307 wOBA/90 wRC+ in 2014), with his BABIP way down, his power a little down, and his walk rate holding steady. Defensively, Montero is considered an above-average backstop (though not quite as strong as Martin) and an above-average pitch framer (though not quite as strong as Martin).
Montero’s contract pays him $12 million in 2015, and then $14 million in each of 2016 and 2017.
Given all of that, you’re probably wondering when it starts to sound like Montero – who would also require pieces to acquire in trade – is a reasonable alternative to Martin (or even much of an upgrade over Welington Castillo). Well, I’m not quite sure I can make that argument, but I can point out some positive things. For one, Montero dealt with a back injury in 2013, and seemed to bounce back a bit in 2014, even if not back to his career averages. For another thing, Montero bats lefty, and could form part of a nice platoon with, for example, someone like Castillo. In 2014, Montero hit .256/.348/.386 off of righties, which was solidly above average for a catcher. In his career, that line against lefties is a buoyant .272/.356/.442. And for Castillo’s career, he hits lefties to the tun of .306/.373/.472.
Although I can’t say Montero is preferable to Martin, should the Cubs be looking at the two as possibilities behind the plate, he does seem like a nice back-up plan if the bidding for Martin exceeds the Cubs’ valuation. If the Diamondbacks were looking a pure salary dump (in which they seek a modest return, and maybe even eat some salary), then maybe it makes some sense. I don’t have a good gauge just yet on Montero’s ethereal leadership/mentorship/staff guidance qualities, so maybe there’s even more upside there.