At this time last year, the Chicago Cubs figured to have something of an atypical catching rotation, with Miguel Montero the nominal starter, but with David Ross catching more than a typical back-up thanks to his dedicated pairing with Jon Lester and periodic matching up from there. Moreover, Kyle Schwarber was expected to be something close to Jason Hammel’s personal catcher, so it was going to look awfully unique, however it played out.
But then Kyle Schwarber got hurt, and everything was upended. Montero took on more of a traditional starting role, at least until he, himself dealt with injury issues, Willson Contreras arrived, and things changed again.
At the end of the year, Montero and Contreras wound up with nearly identical playing time, and David Ross factored in as something more than a typical back-up. The best laid plans may have been upended, but it still kinda worked out for the best.
Heading into this season, things are similar to where they were last year. Schwarber won’t be a dedicated catching option, but he does figure to rotate in periodically. Meanwhile, Contreras is the starter, but Montero may wind up seeing more time than a typical back-up would, a la David Ross last year.
Joe Maddon suggested to the Tribune that Montero could catch more than once a week, as he matches up against tough right-handers and also (I’m guessing) frequently catches Jake Arrieta: “I’ll catch (Montero) with anybody except Jon Lester.”
Lester famously has issues holding runners at first base, and Montero is not the thrower he once was behind the plate. Thus, Contreras has already been anointed Lester’s personal catcher this year. But, otherwise, we could theoretically see Montero out there for any game, even if Contreras rightfully gets the bulk of the starts.
Giving extra rest time to Montero, 33, together with the ability to match him up more thoughtfully, could lead to a resurgence for Montero at the plate, too. Keep in mind, Montero was among the unluckiest Cubs hitters last year, so there are actually several reasons to project a bounce back at the plate.
And, to the extent Montero catches less than last year, but more than a typical back-up, that could be good for Contreras, too, not only as he continues to adjust to the big leagues, but gets rest for a long season. Contreras also offers the flexibility to play at first base and in left field to keep his bat in the lineup, should the need arise.