MESA, Ariz. – "No," Miguel Montero said Wednesday morning, he didn't speak with Joe Maddon at Cubs Convention, directly contradicting what the manager said the day before during the welcome-to-spring-training press conference.
That's Cub? A camp that's supposed to revolve around the themes of being "authentic" and "uncomfortable" – and "don't forget the heartbeat" – already has some interesting personality dynamics between the star manager and the $14 million backup catcher.
"We haven't talked," Montero said before pitchers and catchers ran through their first official workout at the Sloan Park complex. "But all I care about is my teammates right now. Other than that, I can care less about the rest, to be honest."
Maybe the 2017 season will be all blue skies and Arizona sunshine for the defending World Series champs and Maddon will be right in saying the media has overhyped this. But the obvious friction between Montero and Maddon misses a larger point about why a veteran player would go on WMVP-AM 1000 after the Grant Park championship rally and criticize the manager's communication skills, bullpen management and in-game decisions.
A professional athlete can't be misquoted on a radio station, but maybe there can be some room for misinterpretation. Whether these are simply internal tensions that drive every great team – or behind-the-scenes frustrations more specific to the methods in Maddon's madness – Montero didn't completely go rogue.
"It's not about me," Montero said. "That's what people probably misunderstood with my comments. It's not really about me. It's about my teammates. I care for them, man. And they know that. That's the beauty of it. They know that I stand (up) for them and I care for each individual in this room."
Montero can be brutally honest, an old-school quality that stands out in a clubhouse filled with younger players who maintain polite relationships with reporters and cultivate their images on social media.
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"I have no problem" with Maddon, Montero said. "I'm here to do my job, simple as that. Whatever it is, I'm here to do my job. At the end of the day, I'm going to stick with my players, with my teammates. So whatever happens, I got their back."
Montero will always be a straight shooter with Willson Contreras, who cut into his playing time as a rookie last year and should be the everyday catcher in 2017 and beyond.
"Why would I take it out on him?" Montero said. "It should be my fault that I didn't (do the job). That being said, I can't take anything for granted. I can probably help him get better. And it's going to make me feel pretty good about it when he (succeeds), because I was part of his development.
"Willson's been fun to work with. He's got a lot of talent. He can be one of the best catchers in the big leagues. Obviously, he's still young, still got a lot to prove. But I don't see why he can't do it again even better."
The guess here is Montero might feel energized by not having to be part of Grandpa Rossy's yearlong retirement party. But he didn't roll with a softball question about helping fill a leadership void in the clubhouse.
"Not really," Montero said. "I'm not here to embrace David Ross' leadership (role) or whatever. I'm not here to replace David Ross' leadership or whatever. I'm here to be me and do whatever I think is the best to help my team to win."
Maddon has taken the high road, pointing out how the Cubs won with Montero: blasting a pinch-hit grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series; helping Aroldis Chapman recover from an epic blown save and get through the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians; driving in the winning run in a World Series Game 7.
"I have nothing to clear the air about personally," Maddon said. "Like I've said before, at the end of last season, I know that he was not happy with the role that he had in the playoffs. However, like I said, we had discussed everything prior to that. So I am always open to discussions, but I honestly don't believe that he is all that upset about anything right now, either.
"It's one of those things that I think sometimes gets over-made, overblown. I understand that it reads well. But at the end of the day, man, I have a lot of respect for him. He's a big part of what we're going to do again this year. And he was so large in our success at the end of last season. Listen, man, we do not win the ring without him."