Cubs

Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

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Kaplan: Wood's time with Cubs appears all but over

While new Cubs baseball management has said all the right things about re-signing Kerry Wood as they go about the process of rebuilding a 71-win team, it appears that talking may be as far as they are going to go to get a deal done with the popular pitcher. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations told me late Monday night that Wood's days as a Cub appear all but over.

"Woody wanted to be here despite the rebuilding process but while the Cubs were saying they wanted him back they were unwilling to pay him the market value for a solid set up man," he said. "He has heard from a number of teams that are World Series contenders and they are all willing to pay him a very fair salary to strengthen their bullpen. The Cubs expected him to pitch for another hometown discount. He has already done that for them a couple of times before. There is no reason that he should have to do that again."

Wood joined me on WGN Radio's Sports Night on Monday evening and while he didn't close the door on the Cubs, he sounded like a man ready to move on when I asked him about wanting to keep pitching. Well, thats the thing. Regardless of what happens were still in Chicago, were dedicated to the city and things will work out for me in the city of Chicago because were dedicated to the city, were dedicated to the community, were dedicated to helping children and again were staying here were raising the family here," said Wood. "Im a Texas boy, but I feel like Ive become a Chicagoan, so were happy to be here whether I finish here or whether I dont, we plan on being here a long time.

Wood made 1.5 million in 2011 after giving the Cubs a bargain basement deal to fit into then GM Jim Hendry's budget. It appears that the new Cubs administration expected him to play for basically the same money despite the fact that the team shed several big salaries. Whether or not Wood's Cubs career has come to an end he still plans on making Chicago his family's full time home and continuing his charity work. This is where were raising the family, we may end up in a suburb but well be in the Chicago area, not too far from the city if we do move out, but this is where were raising the family, this is where were raising the kids," explained Wood. "Were gonna stay very involved in the community, this wasnt done for a couple years and is gonna fade away. I dont have a whole lot of plans for after Im done playing so this is gonna take up a little bit of my time. We look forward to making a difference, making a change in some neighborhoods and really just helping out the children of Chicago."

Wood was asked about the fans who may be bitterly disappointed if he is not a part of the Cubs new culture change as well as a part of their rebuilt bullpen. The fans have always been great to me and my family as well and thats part of the reason weve stayed here. The communitys been great to us and the citys been great to us. From a fans standpoint I understand that theyve kind of seen me grow upI signed when I was 18, but I got drafted when I was 17, so thats half my life as a Cub. So I get it, at this point Im the last one left from a 2003 team that went deep into the playoffs, almost got it done. Theres always time for change, and theres always room for it, so well just have to wait and see.

Cubs boss Theo Epstein appeared on WGN Radio's "Cubs Corner" last week and spoke very eloquently about Wood and whether or not he wanted him back on the 2012 team. Kerry Wood, I love this guy. I love what he brings between the lines, on the field and really Ive just admired him his whole career with how he conducts himself and what he means in the clubhouse," said Espstein. "Kerry Wood is exactly the type of guy we want, to build a winning culture here in Chicago. I would be greatly, greatly disappointed if were not able to bring him back, were actively engaged in negotiations, its the off-season its the part of the season where agents get involved and money is part of the equation. I think this one should work out. You have a team who really respects the guy, wants him back desperately, you have a player who loves this city, is a huge part of the community here with the family, the foundation and wants to be back, if we cant work this one out were doing something wrong, wed love to get that one done and I expect to.

When Epstein's comments were played for Wood during the radio interview he said all the right things but in listening to him it was apparent that he is disappointed that his negotiations didn't go more smoothly. "Obviously it's great to hear those things. I mean, that's great. I don't envy the job he has and what he's doing right now. I think he's got a tough job ahead of him. Moves have to be made, some that he's already done. So, he's not in an easy position. But again, hopefully 2, 3, 4 years down the road we're saying that he made all the right moves, and that's why this team is consistently in the playoffs. So we hope that happens."

If Wood's career with the Cubs is indeed over he leaves as one of the most popular players in team history and also one of the classiest. He is very deserving of playing for a team that has a legitimate chance to win a championship and with the Tigers, the Phillies, the Reds, the Angels and others all interested, Wood's options are many. It appears he will make a decision on his next home by Saturday. Will Theo Epstein ride to the rescue and save the day? If he plans on it time is running out so he better move quickly.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

It’s not a blockbuster move, but the Cubs have reportedly made a trade with more than two weeks until the trade deadline.

Theo Epstein confirmed previous reports after the game that the Cubs traded left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Kansas City Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado. Epstein added that Willson Contreras is heading to the 10-day IL with a strain in the arch of his foot, but he didn’t expect Contreras to be out much longer than those 10 days.

Montgomery, 30, joined the Cubs in the middle of the 2016 season, but struggled this season. He had a 5.67 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 27 innings this season.

Maldonado, 32, was hitting .224/.288/.359 with the Royals. Maldonado can fill in at catcher with Victor Caratini while Contreras is out. Maldonado is known for his defensive ability behind the plate.

Meanwhile, Montgomery's exit means the pitcher who recorded the last out of the 2016 World Series is no longer in the organization. Epstein addressed that to reporters after the game.

"Obviously you can't talk about his contributions without talking about getting the last out of the World Series that changed everybody's life," Epstein said.

Montgomery talked to reporters from his locker after it was announced that he was traded.

"I look back at that and it's an emotional experience," Montgomery said. "At the time, I didn't realize how much impact it was. Especially now, as I leave this team and the city, it's going to be something I can look back on and really be proud of. I was able to accomplish a lot here and now it's time to move on and see what else I can accomplish somewhere else."

Montgomery may have an opportunity to join the Royals rotation. The Royals traded starting pitcher Homer Bailey to the A's on Sunday. Montgomery didn't make any starts in 2019, but had 38 in his previous two and a half years with the Cubs.

"It's definitely an emotional thing to think of the last three and a half, four years here and obviously the World Series," Montgomery said. "I grew up a lot here. I'm definitely going to miss playing here in the city and with a lot of these guys. It's going to take a little while to settle in."

 

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