SAN DIEGO – The Cubs ended their three-catcher experiment on Tuesday, trading Welington Castillo to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Yoervis Medina, showing a sense of urgency in trying to strengthen an overworked bullpen.
The Cubs didn’t flip Castillo for some A-ball pitcher. Medina, 26, will first report to Triple-A Iowa, but he should get a real shot to contribute at some point, given all the volatility the Cubs have experienced in the middle innings and late-game situations.
Medina put up a 2.82 ERA in 141 appearances out of Seattle’s bullpen across the last three seasons, going 10-9 with 43 holds and two saves. He notched 140 strikeouts in 137 innings while limiting opponents to a .216 batting average.
Medina had been sent down to Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate after giving up seven walks in 12 innings and hadn’t pitched for the Mariners since May 2. His fastball, which averaged 94.9 mph last year, had dropped to 92.4 mph this season, according to the online database at FanGraphs.
Still, manager Joe Maddon compared Medina’s upside to Pedro Strop, another reliever with good stuff the Cubs fixed after a change of scenery.
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“Nobody’s talked to me about less velocity,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. “I’ve heard more about swing-and-miss capability, a breaking ball and sinking the ball in the ground, which are really attractive qualities.”
The Cubs almost got to Memorial Day weekend with three catchers, dragging this situation out longer than anyone expected after Theo Epstein’s front office made it an offseason priority to upgrade behind the plate.
After the Toronto Blue Jays won the Russell Martin sweepstakes, the Cubs traded for Miguel Montero and signed David Ross to be Jon Lester’s personal catcher, investing $45 million and making multiyear commitments to both players.
Castillo – who had been in the organization since 2004 after signing as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic – should get a chance to hit the reset button and maybe show that he can still become a frontline catcher.
The Mariners began the day at 17-20, needing an offensive jolt to make up some ground in the American League West, where they already trailed the Houston Astros by seven games. Seattle’s primary catcher, Mike Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, was hitting .179 with a .600 OPS.
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“I’m pretty sure Wely is going to help them,” said Montero, a two-time All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks. “I wish him the best. He’s a great guy, a great teammate, and he’s got really good potential to be one of the best behind the plate. There’s no doubt about that.”
Castillo generated 21 homers and 78 RBI during the previous two years combined and has a .717 career OPS. He is 28 years old and isn’t positioned to become a free agent until after the 2017 season.
Even with diminished playing time and no clear future in Chicago, Castillo still worked hard and maintained the same positive attitude inside the clubhouse. Stuck in the National League, he appeared in 24 games for the Cubs this season, hitting .163 in 47 plate appearances while catching only 64 innings.
“He needs to play,” Montero said. “He really deserved to play.”
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Castillo has a rocket arm and good reflexes on balls in the dirt, but he lacked an element of creativity in calling pitches at a time when the Cubs overload their catchers with information and want a stronger veteran presence.
“Welington’s good,” Maddon said. “Seattle’s going to get a really good catcher. I’m really happy for him if it permits him to play more often. He’s really good behind the plate. He’s learning how to really call a good game. His physical skills are outstanding – the blocking and throwing are among the best.
“You hate to lose a guy like that, but you always have to give up something to get something.”