The Cubs once had the luxury of not rushing Willson Contreras. With Miguel Montero, David Ross and Kyle Schwarber all deserving time behind the plate, the Cubs could give their catcher of the future a bridge year at Triple-A Iowa to prepare him for high-stress situations and the information overload.
That major-league depth began to disappear by Game 3, once Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler in a season-ending outfield collision that tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee.
Now Montero – who will turn 33 this summer and has already caught almost 8,000 innings in The Show – is dealing with a stiff back that hasn’t responded well to the cold Chicago weather.
With Montero scratched from Tuesday’s lineup and said to be available off the bench – at least before the rain washed out Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field – the Cubs will have to lean even harder on Grandpa Rossy.
Would Contreras be the next man up?
“It depends on what happens,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You would have to look at a short-term situation or a long-term situation regarding who you may want to bring up, just based on roles.”
Super-utility guy Javier Baez – who actually gained some catching experience in high school while developing into a first-round pick – is the emergency in-game option. Ross – who is 39 years old and planning to retire after this season – is already locked in as Jon Lester’s personal catcher.
“I don’t want to beat him up,” Maddon said. “That would be a concern.”
The Cubs do have some veteran Triple-A insurance with Tim Federowicz, who played parts of four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers between 2011 and 2014. But Contreras is already on the 40-man roster and would also be just a phone call away at Iowa.
The big break might not come immediately with an injury, since Montero doesn’t see this as a disabled-list situation, but Contreras looks like a potential second-half energy boost, the same way Schwarber gave the team shots of adrenaline during last year’s playoff run.
Contreras, who won a Southern League batting title last season, is hitting .375 through his first 14 games with Iowa and has the big arm that can shut down a running game.
The questions revolve around how Contreras, who will turn 24 in May, can handle a pitching staff that has a 2.58 overall ERA, 16 quality starts through 20 games and all these different personalities.
But the Cubs are succession planning with Montero only signed through 2017 ($14 million guaranteed next season), Schwarber facing an arduous rehab process and Contreras emerging as MLB.com’s top catching prospect.