In the immediate aftermath of the Yu Darvish signing, no player on the Chicago Cubs was more impacted than Mike Montgomery. The 28-year-old lefty, who has been quite open about his desire to be a full-time starting pitcher, was in line to be the Cubs’ fifth starter before a great deal for Darvish developed. Now he’s the sixth starter on a team that probably won’t be going with a six-man rotation right out of the gate. That means it’ll be a familiar bullpen-ish role for Montgomery this year.
Given that situation, it’s understandable that a lot of chatter picked up – speculative, for the most part – about the Cubs now shopping Montgomery with Darvish in the fold. Might now not be the time to resupply the farm system with a valuable asset like Montgomery, especially in a market that is apparently ravenous for cost-controlled starting pitching?
And, as Gordon Wittenmyer reports, a team with one of the best farm systems in baseball – the Phillies – reached out to the Cubs about picking up Montgomery. And that came even before the Cubs landed Darvish. The Phillies would be the second team we’ve heard about having interest in Montgomery, together with the Orioles (remember those Manny Machado rumors?), but I suspect there would be a ton more. Even if you think Montgomery’s ceiling is a back-end starter, there’s a whole lot of value in a guy who can do that for several very cost-controlled years. And I happen to believe he’s got middle-of-the-rotation upside.
That is to say, if the Cubs did decide to market Montgomery right now, I think they’d find a robust array of suitors dangling attractive prospect packages. I say prospect packages because the Cubs really don’t have a significant need on the big league roster to fill by trading Montgomery, so …
… er, well, actually, if the Cubs did trade Montgomery, I’d argue they suddenly would have a big hole, and it’s the one we’ve been worried about for months: the quality starting pitching depth. Sure, the Cubs now have a stellar front five, but we all know better than to expect that all five guys will be perfectly healthy all season and take the ball 32 times apiece. A good team has to have excellent starting pitching depth, and I’m not sure there’s a better sixth starter who can also pitch out of the bullpen (i.e., contribute big league value while he’s “waiting”) than Mike Montgomery.
So wouldn’t the Cubs be robbing themselves of significant big league value by trading away Montgomery right now? It sure seems like it.
That doesn’t mean you don’t consider it. At some point, if the Cubs really want to extend this competitive window, they’re going to have to replenish the farm system in a significant way, even as their competitiveness keeps them drafting low and trading prospects away. Maybe trading Montgomery right now isn’t the way to do it. But maybe, given his value and the market, it’s at least worth an afternoon of consideration. If some team wants to blow the Cubs away right now? I mean, OK, sure.
For now, for me, I don’t think it would be something I’d aggressively pursue. This season is shaping up so well for the Cubs that they should keep the foot on the gas, and make sure not to create any unnecessary holes. But who knows? Maybe a young pitcher or two takes a clear step forward in the first half, and someone emerges as a guy who could similarly fill Montgomery’s role? And maybe the market gets even more heated for cost-controlled starters like Montgomery, and there’s a perfect storm for a competitive Cubs team to actually sell off a piece for prospects at the deadline. It would be a crazy and rare thing, but it’s far from unimaginable given the Cubs’ uniquely full roster situation.