MILWAUKEE — Miguel Montero looks around and realizes: “Wow, I’m the old man now.”
But that’s exactly what Cubs executives had in mind when they traded for Montero, taking on the three years and $40 million left on the All-Star catcher’s contract and sending two lower-level pitchers to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That trade closed during the same winter meetings in San Diego, where the Cubs won the Jon Lester sweepstakes and toasted their new $155 million ace. That led to another deal for backup catcher David Ross, reuniting the World Series battery for the 2013 Boston Red Sox.
Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department wanted to change a clubhouse culture that hadn’t really gone bad, but had been filled with too many placeholders, guys waiting to get traded or just fighting for survival. The Cubs needed more of an edge.
“When you have guys that won in the past, they know how to win and they like to win,” Montero said before Friday’s 7-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “It can be contagious to all the players. That was the main thing for (the front office) — to bring in guys that won in the past like Lester and Ross.
“I just went to the playoffs — no farther than the playoffs — but this is farther than a lot of other guys (here). I’m competitive. I love to win…even playing video games.”
Montero sat back in his chair inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse, chilling at his locker and enjoying being back around a potential contender he tagged with “#wearegood” on his personal Twitter account.
“You got to believe it,” Montero said. “It’s something that I really, truly believe.”
The Cubs wanted that veteran confidence and been-there, done-that perspective for moments like this during the long season, coming off a disappointing series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Montero doesn’t want to be in a rebuilding situation.
“You’re out of it in the first month of the season, it’s difficult to go to the field,” Montero said. “For what? To play for me? For my numbers? That’s pretty much it. I’m not that guy. I like to win. And I like to play to win. You do that, your numbers are going to be there.
“You can’t really worry about the numbers. That’s what a lot of people get caught up in. They just care about their numbers. Do this, do that, and at the end of the day, we lost the game, but I had a good game. Does that take you somewhere? No.
“Because if you win and you go 0-for-4, I guarantee at the end of the year, you’re going to have a good season. The numbers are going to be there. Because that’s contagious. Hitting is contagious, so is pitching. It’s going to get to that point.
“We win a couple in a row, get back to winning series and take it from there. You’re going to feel invincible coming into a stadium.”
Montero feels like he did in 2011 and 2012, when he generated 33 homers and 174 RBI combined. His production so far — .286 average, .858 OPS and 13 RBI in 23 games — suggest that the three-catcher rotation could help him stay fresh.
“This year, I feel really good when I play,” Montero said. “Maybe a little off timing, because it’s hard when you’re used to playing every day and then you come here and you’re playing three times a week and every other day, things like that. Which I understand. That’s not part of my job.
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“My job is when they put me in the lineup, be ready to play. But my swing feels good. My approach has been good. I’ve been driving the ball the other way more than the last two years, which is a good sign. Hopefully, it stays like that the whole year. This game is up and down, and I just hope the downs are a little bit shorter than the ups.”
Montero will turn 32 this summer and might feel old when he looks at someone like Addison Russell, who was born in 1994. Time will tell if the Cubs got this chemistry experiment right.
“I feel great,” Montero said. “All the guys have a lot of energy. I’m still a high-energy guy. But being around these guys will pump you up a little more.”