Cubs keep Andrew Miller in mind while making Mike Montgomery trade with Mariners

Cubs keep Andrew Miller in mind while making Mike Montgomery trade with Mariners

Before the trade-deadline pressure really heats up, the Cubs made a deal to strengthen their bullpen on Wednesday, acquiring left-hander Mike Montgomery from the Seattle Mariners for minor-league slugger Dan Vogelbach.

Whether or not the Cubs make a big splash on Aug. 1, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed a major need and created a degree of leverage and some peace of mind while waiting to see what the New York Yankees do with All-Star reliever Andrew Miller and 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman.

Even Montgomery’s career path made Epstein think about Miller’s trajectory. Montgomery had been among Baseball America’s top 40 overall prospects before the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons when the Kansas City Royals packaged him in the Wil Myers/James Shields/Wade Davis trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Montgomery posted a 2.34 ERA in 32 games (two starts) with the Mariners this year, putting up 54 strikeouts against 18 walks in 61-plus innings and generating groundballs almost 59 percent of the time. The Cubs also redistributed their depth, sending Double-A pitcher Paul Blackburn to the Mariners and getting back Triple-A right-hander Jordan Pries. 

Montgomery just turned 27 this month and has the size (6-foot-5), first-round pedigree (36th overall in 2008) and service-time clock (not a free agent until after the 2021 season) to fit into a pennant race as well as the franchise’s long-range plans.  

“We think we’re getting him at the right time,” Epstein said after a 6-2 victory over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “He’s certainly not a household name. But we think he’s got a chance to take off and maybe be the type of guy that a year from now you couldn’t get in a deal of this size.

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“Sometimes, with these bullpen pieces, it’s important to get them when they’re on the way there, maybe haven’t fully arrived yet.

“I’m not saying he’s Andrew Miller – very few are, no one is – but we traded for Andrew Miller in Boston when I was there in November 2010 hoping he could put it together in the ‘pen someday.

“That’s how a lot of guys get there. If you wait until they’re fully established, sometimes the price tag is so high that they’re virtually impossible to acquire.

“But if your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end.”  

This is also relatively painless at a time when the Cubs don’t want to give up major-league assets like Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez. Already blocked by All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Vogelbach had the defensive profile, body type and powerful left-handed swing to become a designated hitter in the American League.

A second-round pick in 2011 – the final draft class for the Jim Hendry administration – Vogelbach reached Triple-A Iowa by his age-23 season and had been hitting .318 with 16 homers, 64 RBI and a .972 OPS through his first 89 games at that level.

Blackburn, the 56th overall pick in the 2012 draft, went 6-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 18 starts at Double-A Tennessee, but is perceived to have a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.

Montgomery is expected to join the team on Friday at Miller Park for the beginning of a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers. That won’t stop the Cubs from looking for much bigger deals.

“We kind of separate it into different buckets,” Epstein said. “The guys who are established impact guys right now will obviously have a higher price tag – and we’ll still be in on those guys. We’re still interested in improving the ‘pen if we can.

“And then the younger controllable pieces, including guys who we think have a chance to start down the line. Mike certainly fits into that category. He’s been a starter his whole career up until this year. And we’d certainly hold the door open to that in the future.”

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

ST. LOUIS — The game was over and Yadier Molina knew it.

As Ian Happ turned on Sam Tuivailala's two-strike pitch in the 7th inning, Molina crumbled to the ground in defeat.

Happ's two-out double gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead they did not relinquish in a 6-3 victory Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs had to claw back all night against the Cardinals, fighting to tie the game at two separate spots before Happ's breakthrough off Tuivailala.

Molina couldn't contain his disappointment:

Molina is a common target of ire from Cubs fans in the heated rivalry with the Cardinals, so you can bet his #SadFace led to some glee in the Chicago fanbase (just look at the comments on that Tweet):

The 35-year-old catcher just returned recently from a nearly month-long stint on the disabled list when he took a foul tip off a Kris Bryant swing to the groin on Jordan Hicks' 102 mph pitch the last time the Cubs were in town.

Molina has drawn 3 walks and has a single in this weekend's series with the Cubs, but he also committed a miscue in Friday's game, when he threw wild to first base on Jon Lester's squeeze bunt.

The Cubs are now 24-12 since they were swept in St. Louis on the first weekend of May.

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

After victimizing poor Cal Eldred for three solo shots in the first game of the series, Sosa wouldn't let the Milwaukee Brewers leave town in June 1998 without one more dinger.

He connected in the 4th inning of the series finale on June 17, 1998, a solo shot off a pitcher named Bronswell Patrick (yes, that's his real name) that went 430 feet down the left field line.

The Cubs wound up losing the game 6-5, though Jose Hernandez did make it close with a 2-run shot in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Through this game, Sosa sported a .300/.348/.917 slash line (1.265 OPS) with 12 homers and 25 RBI in 15 June contests that season. (Yes, that's a .917 slugging percentage.)

But believe it not, those June numbers are about to get even better...

Fun fact: The Cubs lineup on June 17, 1998 featured 4 hitters with a batting average of .320 or higher — Sosa (.333), Mark Grace (.347), Mickey Morandini (.320) and Matt Mieske (.323), though Mieske was a part-time player. 

The 2018 Cubs currently feature only 1 player (part-time or full-time) hitting at least .320: Albert Almora Jr. who entered play Saturday at .321.