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).
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.
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.
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“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.”