Last week, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about the possibility of carrying three catchers – Miguel Montero, David Ross, and Welington Castillo – on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster (Cubs.com, CSN, ESPN). I certainly didn’t ignore his comments, but, because he’s only dealing with the hand he’s got right now, I didn’t rush to deconstruct his thoughts on the possibility that it might be good to have Castillo around, in addition to Montero and Ross. After all, it’s still more likely than not that Castillo is dealt before Opening Day, even if it’s become increasingly plausible that he won’t be. These kinds of trades, if they happen, tend to come in the waning days of Spring Training as teams have to deal with their own roster situations, and injuries mount.
But then Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said this to Jesse Rogers: “Joe is the one pounding the table for three catchers. He wants it more than anybody.”
Read Rogers’ piece for more from Epstein about the possibility that the Cubs carry the three catchers on Opening Day, something toward which Epstein says the Cubs are currently “strongly leaning.” It’s pretty interesting – especially the suggestion that Maddon really wants this to happen.
Now, then, an obligatory word of caution: comments like these from Maddon and Epstein are equally consistent with them having a genuine desire or interest in keeping three catchers … and with them preserving their options in the face of trade talks. Carrying three catchers in the National League – three catchers who are only catchers, defensively – is an extremely difficult thing to do and to still have the best possible roster. Sure, if there was a guy you’d trust to maximize that situation, it’s Joe Maddon, and sure, a roster that features so much versatility elsewhere is the ideal roster to handle three catchers. But, let’s just be crystal clear: there’s at least some messaging going on here.
But now the reverse on that word of caution: the Cubs really might carry three catchers, and it really might not be a bad thing. Catchers – especially older ones like David Ross, and, to a slightly-less-old extent, Miguel Montero – get hurt. They need resting time for optimal performance. They cannot be pinch hit for or pinch run for late in the game, because then you might be stuck without a back-up catcher. They cannot be used for in-game platooning for the same reason. Having three catchers on the roster would definitely open up some interesting opportunities for Maddon, and would present the Cubs with fantastic depth at a position where you often need it.
Without Castillo, the Cubs are a Montero injury away from a David Ross-Taylor Teagarden (or Rafael Lopez) tandem. And if Ross got hurt, too? Not only would the performance from the catching spot potentially suffer, but the pitching could suffer, too, as they adjust to guys they haven’t worked with. Say what you will about Castillo’s receiving skills, but he does know the staff very well.
And, for all the trade talk, it’s easy to forget just how good Castillo is at almost every part of a catcher’s job.
I have no doubt that the Cubs entered the post-David-Ross-signing world with an eye on trading Welington Castillo for value. But, now that we’re here, two weeks from the start of the season, I have no doubt that the Cubs really are making contingency plans for carrying Castillo, if it comes to that. Further, I have no doubt that they’re genuinely – not just in faux messaging – making the best of that situation internally.
So maybe it really happens. Could be fun.
(Related: if you missed it, I recently discussed the roster implications of where Javier Baez starts the season – AAA or the big leagues – and there’s a direction connection to the Cubs’ ability to carry three catchers to start the season.)