WASHINGTON — The trade-deadline priorities for Theo Epstein’s front office are pitching, pitching and more pitching. Manager Joe Maddon says the rotation will drive the engine for a team that has been stuck in neutral through 49 percent of the season. The Cubs just removed their only experienced catcher from their pitching-and-defense equation.
This isn’t trying to turn Miguel Montero into a martyr for the honest/foolish criticism of Jake Arrieta that got him designated for assignment. Willson Contreras already did most of the heavy lifting, proving himself as an eager-to-learn student and a clutch postseason hitter.
But at the age of 25 — and with two half-seasons of experience in the big leagues — Contreras is now the senior catcher to Victor Caratini at a mentally and physically grueling position.
“It’s going to put more on our plate, for sure, because there’s a learning curve coming into the league,” pitcher John Lackey said. “I don’t care who you are. We’ve all done it. I had it when I was a young kid. But from what I hear, (Caratini’s) been hitting really good at Triple-A, I guess, so we’ll see what happens.”
Lackey (5.24 ERA) wasn’t in excuse-making mode after an ugly loss this week at Nationals Park. Lackey was just answering the question and being realistic. Caratini, 23, earned a promotion that wouldn’t have happened so soon without Montero’s loose-cannon personality by hitting .343 with eight homers, 54 RBI and a .923 OPS in 68 games at Iowa.
“Veteran pitchers pretty much know what they want to do or how they want to do it,” Maddon said, “so I’m always relying on (them). Our philosophy is that the pitcher always has the right — the last right — to choose what he wants to do or not do. Even when it comes down to defense, if you don’t like the shift, we won’t move. When it comes to calling a game, starting pitchers – our veteran guys – are pretty much in charge of that moment.”
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Maddon also has faith in a secret weapon: Mike Borzello, the catching/strategy coach who spearheads the team’s unique system that blends scouting and analytics into daily reports.
“Our catchers are prepped really well,” Maddon said. “Borz does a great job of game-planning. They sit down before the game and they go through the process. I think in a moment like this, you’re relying on the veteran-ship and the know-how of your starting pitchers more than the catchers. As long as the catchers know the game plan, receive well, block well, throw well, I’m OK with it.”
Maddon would also never publicly lobby for a defense-first veteran catcher to stabilize things behind the plate.
“It depends on who the guy is,” Maddon said. “I like our catchers right now. If you’re any major-league team, I think you’d like to say Willson Contreras is one of your catchers.
“I love (Caratini’s) swing, so there’s not going to be a long period of time before people are going to say we’d like to have Caratini also. These are two really good young catchers to grow with.”
Jon Lester – who has almost exclusively thrown to David Ross and Contreras since signing his $155 million megadeal — spoke with Montero on Wednesday after those running-game comments went viral and Epstein dropped the DFA hammer trying to jolt the clubhouse.
“I’ve gotten to know Miggy over the last couple years as a piece of this team that changed history, so that’s something that he’ll always have,” Lester said. “But at the end of the day, management needs to make decisions. And they made the decision. You say your goodbyes and kind of move on.”