Cubs going all-in with Willson Contreras and youth movement at catcher

Cubs going all-in with Willson Contreras and youth movement at catcher

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.”

Cubs chairman Tom Rickets gave David Ross the coolest decoration for his office

Cubs chairman Tom Rickets gave David Ross the coolest decoration for his office

There are cool office decorations, and their office decorations that blow casual ones out of the water.

A souvenir in Cubs manager David Ross' Wrigley Field falls into the latter category.

Ross posted photos on Instagram Saturday revealing he has the first W flag to hang over Wrigley after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series in his office. He says team chairman Tom Ricketts gave it to him for the office.

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Now, imagine what that flag would go for on eBay.

All jokes aside, you've got to think that flag will end up in some Cubs museum one day. For now, it's in safe hands.


2020 MLB season: Tracking players who have opted out or declined to play

2020 MLB season: Tracking players who have opted out or declined to play

With Major League Baseball attempting to play the 2020 season with COVID-19 afflicting the nation, players have the option to not participate this year. 

Those considered “high-risk” for the coronavirus — per MLB’s agreement with the MLBPA — can opt out and receive salary and service time. Those who are not can decline to play but may not receive salary and service time. Teams may offer both to players who live with high-risk individuals, however.

Here is a running list of players who will sit out this season:

Mike Leake — Diamondbacks pitcher

On June 29, Leake became the first player to announce he will sit out. His agent said he and his family took “countless factors into consideration.” MLB insider Jon Heyman said the right-hander will not be paid this season, meaning he doesn’t fall under the high-risk designation.

Leake was positioned to compete for a spot in Arizona’s rotation and will become a free agent if they decline his $18 million 2021 option.

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Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross 

Zimmerman joined Leake in announcing his decision on June 29. The longtime National cited family circumstances — three kids, including a newborn, and his mother being high-risk. He made it clear he is not retiring, but he's set to become a free agent after this season.

On the same day Zimmerman announced his decision, the Nationals revealed Ross also decided not to play. The club’s statement cited “the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones” in both players’ decisions. Ross is arbitration eligible through 2021.

Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond

Desmond also revealed he won’t play this year on June 29. He posted a powerful Instagram message discussing racial inequality in baseball, from Little League to MLB. It’s heartfelt and worth a read:

View this post on Instagram

On my mind.

A post shared by Ian Desmond (@i_dez20) on

Free agent pitcher Tyson Ross 

On July 2, Heyman reported Ross joined his brother Joe in deciding not to play. Tyson Ross was with the Giants and in contention for a swingman job before San Francisco released him in late June, shortly after MLB lifted its transaction freeze.

Nationals catcher Welington Castillo

Castillo became the third Nationals player to decide to sit out. Nationals manager Dave Martinez said on July 3 the former Cubs and White Sox catcher was hesitant to play because he has young children.

Dodgers pitcher David Price

Price announced on July 4 he will be sitting out this year, saying it’s in the “best interest of my health and my family’s health.” He joined Los Angeles over the offseason in a trade from the Red Sox with Mookie Betts.

Prior to his decision, Price donated $1,000 to every Dodgers minor leaguer in June.

Braves pitcher Félix Hernández

Hernández' agent announced on July 4 the former Cy Young Award winner will sit out this year. Hernández was vying for a spot in Atlanta’s rotation. 

Braves outfielder Nick Markakis

Markakis announced his decision to sit out on July 6. He said his family, as well as teammate Freddie Freeman contracting a rough case of COVID-19, influenced his thinking.

“Just to hear him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough, it was kind of eye-opening,” Markakis said of Freeman.

Pirates pitcher Héctor Noesí

The Pirates revealed on July 8 Noesí elected not to play for family reasons. He was on a minor league deal.

Giants catcher Buster Posey

Posey, the Giants longtime backstop and three-time champion, revealed Friday he won’t be playing this year. The 33-year-old and his wife recently adopted premature twin girls.

White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech

The White Sox announced Friday evening Kopech will not play this year. The 24-year-old hadn’t arrived at Summer Camp due to personal reasons prior to Friday’s news.

MORE: White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech decides not to participate in 2020 season

"Michael Kopech has informed us of his decision to not participate in the 2020 season," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. "We recognize that reaching this decision is incredibly difficult for any competitive athlete, and our organization is understanding and supportive.

"We will work with Michael to assure his development continues throughout 2020, and we look forward to welcoming him back into our clubhouse for the 2021 season."