At this point, Cubs keeping Miguel Montero in 2016 plans


At this point, Cubs keeping Miguel Montero in 2016 plans

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Even with all the moving pieces to this jigsaw-puzzle offseason, it doesn’t sound like the Cubs are ready to move Miguel Montero.

Trading Montero – who’s owed $28 million across the next two seasons – would be one way to help free up funds to sign one of the frontline pitchers the Cubs have been linked to during the general manager meetings at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein started off this week in South Florida by ruling out the idea of signing two players to nine-figure contracts this winter, saying the Cubs would have to get creative just to put together one of those megadeals. 

[RELATED - Dealing with White Sox is one of many ways Cubs can get creative in trade market]

But trading Montero after an up-and-down season isn’t on the table at this point.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that,” Epstein said. “That’s not something we’ve talked about at all. He was a big part of helping our run prevention last year (with) his framing behind the plate (and) his pitch-calling. We set an all-time National League record for strikeouts. We were third in ERA. He was a big part of that. It’s not something that we’re looking to disrupt at all.”

Montero finished with 15 homers and 53 RBI after missing almost a month with a sprained left thumb and dealing with two different three-catcher rotations that cut into his playing time.

At the age of 32, it’s hard to expect Montero to be the same force he had been at times with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he made two All-Star teams.  

But the Cubs don’t have an obvious alternative with top catching prospect Willson Contreras – who won a Southern League batting title this year – expected to start next season at Triple-A Iowa and need more time to develop defensively.

The Cubs have David Ross around for one more season at $2.25 million. Jon Lester’s personal catcher is an energetic clubhouse leader with the potential to manage in the big leagues someday. But the Cubs can’t count on a .176 hitter to play every day, especially when Ross will be 39 years old next season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

And the Cubs can’t afford to send Kyle Schwarber back to the minors to continue learning how to catch – or rely on him every day behind the plate in The Show – if they want to get back to the NL Championship Series and play deeper into October.

“He’s going to continue to grow at both positions,” Epstein said. “He’s excited to try to get better in the outfield and to continue his growth behind the plate. I think he’s at an age (22) where that’s still possible to develop in both areas. It’s not necessarily ideal, but it’s something that I think he’s capable of doing.” 

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

Joe Maddon is liking the look of Cubs 'backwards' lineup

No matter how much people complain and Tweet, Joe Maddon will never go with a set lineup every game.

But that doesn't mean he won't let certain spots in the lineup settle in for a couple weeks in a row.

That's what may be occuring right now with Anthony Rizzo holding serve as the "Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" once again.

Rizzo made his 5th straight start atop the Cubs order Friday after collecting a pair of doubles and a walk in Thursday's 9-6 victory.

Initially, moving Rizzo from the heart of the order to the top was in part to help the Cubs first baseman get going. Maddon is a big fan of hitting guys leadoff to help them reset mentally and find their stroke again.

But it is working — Rizzo entered play Friday 8-for-16 with 5 doubles, 3 walks, 3 runs and 3 RBI in the leadoff spot over the last week. The promptly reached on a hit-by-pitch and walk his first two times up Friday.

He's also been the team's biggest cheerleader:

So how long will Maddon keep this unconventional lineup?

"I don't know," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I don't know. He came up again in crucial moments [Thursday]. He looks really good out there. I don't know. That's my exact answer."

Yes, Rizzo is looking good in the leadoff spot, but his insertion atop the order has given the Cubs lineup a new dynamic. 

With Rizzo first and Kris Bryant second, the guys that are historically the Cubs' top two run producers are hitting atop the order and "behind" the pitcher's spot. 

But they're also the Cubs' top two on-base guys and Maddon is liking the look of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — two high-contact guys — following Bryzzo in the order, as they have done recently. (It doesn't hurt to have the NL leader in RBI — Javy Baez — hitting cleanup, either.)

"It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating," Maddon said. "So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

It's taken the Cubs on a 4-game winning streak endcapping the All-Star Break, though the Cardinals got up big early Friday afternoon.

For a team that leads the NL in just about every important offensive category, it's going to be a huge key moving forward if Rizzo gets going on a consistent basis in the second half.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."