Martin Maldonado

Uh oh: Cubs' Willson Contreras leaves Saturday's game with hamstring injury

Uh oh: Cubs' Willson Contreras leaves Saturday's game with hamstring injury

A seemingly innocuous play in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday may wind up having huge implications for the 2019 Cubs.

Catcher Willson Contreras lined a ball into the gap to begin the inning, but after a step or two out of the batter's box, came up grabbing his right hamstring and hobbled down the first base line:

Contreras was removed from the game and Victor Caratini — who pinch-hit later in the seventh inning — stayed in to catch. 

The Cubs didn't have any concrete information after the 4-1 win regarding Contreras' status moving forward, but he will go for an MRI Monday morning.

"We'll find out the severity at that point or the lack of it," manager Joe Maddon said. "Victor was gonna catch tomorrow anyhow; Darvish is pitching. So we'll just wait and see how it plays out."

Contreras missed a month with a right hamstring injury in August/September 2017.

After that seventh-inning liner was caught, Contreras walked gingerly off the field and threw his batting gloves into the dugout in frustration. That led to even more emotion before he headed into the Cubs clubhouse with trainer P.J. Mainville:

Contreras, 27, is in the midst of a career season with 19 homers, 57 RBI and an .890 OPS. 

The Cubs just traded away veteran catcher Martin Maldonado at the deadline three days ago and the only other backstop besides Caratini currently on the 40-man roster is Taylor Davis.

However, the Cubs do have an emergency catcher on the roster in Kyle Schwarber, who came up as a catcher and has played 25 games behind the dish in the big leagues.

"It's always a tough blow when you lose a catcher like him, especially the type of hitter he is," Cole Hamels said. "He's an All-Star. You don't find them out there [on] the waiver wire and you don't find them as free agents right now.

"We just have to take care of it. I know Caratini's gonna get the bulk of it, but he's been playing well. It's just a matter of seeing what we can do with the options that we have."

Cubs add position player depth, create a potential hole at catcher

Cubs add position player depth, create a potential hole at catcher

The Cubs traded from a position of strength to shore up an area of weakness ahead of Wednesday's MLB Trade Deadline.

Just 16 days after acquiring Martin Maldonado in a trade, the Cubs dealt the veteran catcher to the Houston Astros in return for utilityman Tony Kemp.

Kemp — a left-handed hitter that throws right-handed — can play both second base and outfield and is generally considered a solid fielder at both positions.

The 27-year-old has been a solid hitter over the last couple years, posting a .249/.334/.402 slash line (.736 OPS) in 163 games while hitting mostly toward the bottom of the lineup with the Astros with a few starts at leadoff sprinkled in. 

It's worth noting Kemp is out of options (which is why the Astros designated him for assignment last week), so the Cubs would not be able to send him to and from Triple-A Iowa freely. However, he could be a valuable piece for the team filling in at either second base or the outfield and maybe even seeing a bit of time at leadoff. 

One of Kemp's best assets is his amazing contact ability, which would be a huge addition to the swing-and-miss prone Cubs:

He is also the shortest listed Cubs player since 1972, as NBC Sports Chicago's stat guru Chris Kamka points out:

This move helps bolster the Cubs' position player group, as they won't necessarily have to rely on David Bote and Robel Garcia at second base on a regular basis anymore.

Garcia got out to a fantastic start with the Cubs after being called up earlier this month but has since fallen on tough times (3-for-24 with 12 strikeouts over his last 6 games). He has been leading off the last three games, but appears out of place there with a low walk rate and high strikeout potential.

Bote has struggled as well lately, hitting just .200 with a .578 OPS over the last month of action and he's committed 12 errors this season between second and third base.

The Maldonado aspect of this deal is interesting, in that the Cubs now have a bit of a dearth on the catching depth chart. 

Willson Contreras is a two-time All-Star starter at catcher and Victor Caratini is a more-than-serviceable backup, but if either guy is injured, the next guy on the depth chart is Taylor Davis, who has very little experience at the big-league level. With no August trade deadline this year for the first time, the Cubs liked Maldonado's experience and defense behind the plate in addition to the depth he added over the final couple months of the season.

This is what Theo Epstein said after the Cubs traded for Maldonado two weeks ago:

"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. So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Kemp is a solid addition, but the Cubs as currently constructed are one injury away from a potentially scary catching situation in the middle of a tight divisional race.

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How Cubs plan to maneuver catching situation moving forward

How Cubs plan to maneuver catching situation moving forward

Willson Contreras was just put on the 10-day injured list Monday night, but by Tuesday afternoon, he was already pain-free in his right foot.

The Cubs All-Star catcher is dealing with a strain/bruise in the arch of his right foot, but he saw a specialist Tuesday and plans on taking a couple days off before resuming baseball activities Friday.

The Cubs back-dated the IL stint a couple of days, so Contreras would be eligible to return in the middle of next week if all goes according to plan. 

"If it was me, I'd be playing today or every single day," Contreras said. "But gotta be smart. It's still July and I know the team needs me. I'll be cheering for them right now, but I hope it's less than 10 days."

Contreras said he is getting some orthotic inserts to put into his shoes after initially experiencing the issue while wearing a brand new pair of cleats that hadn't yet been properly broken in. He also said the hard ground played a contributing factor and had a similar injury back in 2015 when he used a new pair of cleats for the Double-A All-Star Game.

When Contreras does return, the Cubs will have an interesting problem to maneuver with their catching situation now that they traded for veteran Martin Maldonado and they still have young backstop Victor Caratini enjoying a breakout campaign.

It's a problem they hope to have.

"It would present differently [having three catchers]," Joe Maddon admitted. "We'd have to parcel out the work in a manner that satisfies all of them, which would not be easy. But it also opens up pinch-hitting opportunities for guys in a good matchup situation, also. We haven't decided exactly [how it's going to work]. 

"But it's hard to not acquire Martin Maldonado if he's available. It's really difficult to walk away from that. So this is one of those things that could be a classic win-win-win, according to Michael Scott. I really believe this will be a great opportunity for Mikey Montgomery in Kansas City and it's a great opportunity for us and Martin here.

"So let's just play it out. I don't want anything negative to happen. I want us to have to figure this out."

Maddon inserted Maldonado into the starting lineup in his first day in Chicago Tuesday and already said Caratini will catch the day game Wednesday with Yu Darvish throwing.

Beyond that, the Cubs don't have a set plan in place for how this is all going to work — in the short-term or when Contreras comes back.

With the Cubs coming off the All-Star Break and getting regular off-days coming up over the next couple of weeks, Maddon doesn't anticipate needing to give first baseman Anthony Rizzo much time off. So, he admitted there's not much of an opportunity for Caratini to play there.

And with Kris Bryant and David Bote already seeing regular time at third base plus the possibility of Robel Garcia and Daniel Descalso able to play the hot corner, Maddon doesn't see much time for Caratini there, either. 

Contreras is coming off a foot injury, so occasionally moving him to the outfield upon his return doesn't necessarily make the most sense at the moment, but maybe that would be an option moving forward. 

Or maybe the Cubs include Caratini in a deal before the trade deadline, though he is a really nice long-term option for the club, especially as a switch-hitter. 

However the Cubs figure it out, the move for Maldonado makes a ton of sense in the big picture view of this 2019 season

Major League Baseball does not have an August waiver trade deadline anymore, so all moves would have to be done before July 31. The Cubs wanted to shore up their overall catching depth and saw an opportunity with Maldonado — a guy they've liked for some time — and jumped at the chance. 

"I've already gotten four texts from people I really respect about [Maldonado] and how much they love him and beyond that, the kind of influence he has in the clubhouse and with his peers," Maddon said. "Conversationally, that came through. I walked into the video room and he's in there talking to [Cubs strategy coach Mike Borzello] and Tommy [Hottovy] and it's like, 'whoa.'

"Handles himself extremely well — looks you right in the eyeballs and he's very confident. So as a catcher, kind of an interesting skillset he's got."