Cubs

Miguel Montero’s future unclear as Schwarber sticks with Cubs

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Miguel Montero’s future unclear as Schwarber sticks with Cubs

MILWAUKEE — Cubs manager Joe Maddon confirmed the obvious: Kyle Schwarber is here to stay.

That keeps the fast-track catcher on a collision course with Miguel Montero, a two-time All-Star about to begin his rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs can’t send Schwarber back to Triple-A Iowa when he’s hitting .338 with a .997 OPS.

“We want his bat in the lineup,” Maddon said even before Schwarber had a big impact on Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “He’s done a nice job behind the plate, too. He’s shown versatility by playing in the outfield.

“I’d like to believe he’s here for awhile.”

That will leave Montero in another awkward position, with the Cubs already carrying David Ross to be Jon Lester’s personal catcher, a clubhouse leader and a quasi-coach (with another guaranteed season on his contract for 2016).

[MORE CUBS: Why didn’t Theo Epstein make a splash at the trade deadline?] 

Remember, it took until late May before the Cubs finally traded catcher Welington Castillo to the Seattle Mariners. Castillo wound up getting flipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that cleared payroll space by trading Montero to the Cubs for two pitching prospects at the winter meetings.

“Well, at this point, to be honest, (with) the way the season started, I’m not surprised about anything,” Montero said.

Montero speaks directly and says what’s on his mind. The Cubs wanted that edge to push their pitching staff and change their clubhouse culture.

The Cubs still owe Montero $28 million across the next two seasons, which would make him an expensive part for a three-catcher rotation (or a potential trade chip to create more financial flexibility).

“Of course, when I came here, I expected to play every day,” Montero said. “I don’t think you want to pay that much money to a guy to bench him.

“But that’s not my job. My job is to play and do what I’m capable of doing.”

At the time the Cubs acquired Montero, Schwarber had only played 72 games in professional baseball after getting drafted No. 4 overall out of Indiana University last year.

[RELATED: Starlin Castro relieved the trade deadline is over] 

There are still questions about whether or not Schwarber can be the long-term answer at catcher, but he has to be in the discussion about next year’s Opening Day roster.

Schwarber got a taste in June as a designated hitter for interleague play and took advantage of another opportunity when Montero sprained his left thumb just before the All-Star break. 

“This is a business, man, so anything can happen,” Montero said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking. I don’t know what they’re going to do. So like I said before, my job is just to come here and compete.

“Whenever I’m in the lineup, do my best. And if I’m not, try to help my teammates.

“Of course, I would like to be in the lineup. But I can’t control that.”

Schwarber launched his fourth home run on Saturday night, but his game-changing sequence came with two outs in the third inning. Schwarber worked an 11-pitch at-bat, lining Matt Garza’s 96 mph fastball into center field for a single. That patience combined with Chris Coghlan’s walk helped set up Anthony Rizzo’s three-run homer.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

“I’m going to keep working my butt off to stay up here,” Schwarber said.

At the age of 32, Montero still feels like he can catch every day, once he gets healthy again. He accounted for at least 1,000 innings behind the plate in each of the previous four seasons. He’s hitting .230 with 10 homers and 32 RBI this year.

It should also be pointed out that Montero worked closely with Castillo and developed a reputation as a good leader for the Diamondbacks, looking after young players from Latin America, taking them to Phoenix Suns games and out to dinner.

Montero would even watch minor-league games during spring training, believing prospects should feel comfortable and part of the organization.

“That’s not going to change,” Montero said, framing his relationship with Schwarber. “It ain’t his fault. So why am I going to take it out on him? It ain’t his fault. I want him to be the best that he can be. And he’s got the potential to be really good.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.