On Wednesday, out of quite literally nowhere, news broke that the Cubs had acquired left-handed reliever Mike Montgomery in exchange for lefty power prospect Dan Vogelbach. Later we learned the two clubs had also exchanged minor-league relievers, as the Cubs sent AA righty Paul Blackburn to Seattle while the Mariners sent AAA hurler Jordan Pries to Chicago.
Thus starts the Cubs 2016 trade deadline season, one that figures to have at least a couple more deals in store. But Vogelbach was an obvious place to start. It’s been obvious pretty much ever since he was drafted that he’d never be a starter for the Chicago Cubs, despite his considerable talent. His… we’ll call it rotund… frame isn’t built for anything but first base or DH, and with Anthony Rizzo manning first, Vogelbach had no route to the majors.
Immediately after the deal – as with pretty much all deals that aren’t straight up highway robbery – there were plenty of fans who seemed upset that the Cubs didn’t get more for Vogelbach, noting that they only got a lefty reliever for one of the better power-hitting prospects in baseball.
Sure. Just like they only received a pair of minor leaguers (Christian Villanueva and some kid named Kyle Hendricks) in exchange for Ryan Dempster. And just like they only received a washed-up starter and a washed-up reliever for Scott Feldman (Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop). Sigh. The internet is a desolate place sometimes.
Anyway, the point here is that calling Montgomery a “lefty reliever” is a bit disingenuous. Originally drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Royals, he was eventually traded to Tampa Bay as part of the massive James Shields deal in 2012, and later dealt to Seattle in early 2015, where he eventually made his big league debut.
Montgomery started 16 games in 2015, pitching two complete game shutouts, but also struggling mightily at times, winding up with a 4.60 ERA/.467 FIP/1.433 WHIP after his rookie season. This year, he’s worked primarily out of the pen, and has been fantastic. In 30 relief appearances, he’s posted a 2.15 ERA/1.053 WHIP in 50.1 innings, and batters are hitting a meager .208 AVG/.290 OBP/.270 SLG against him.
Lefties, in particular, have struggled against Montgomery, hitting only .164/.269/.254 against him. So, not only is he a fantastic option out of the pen right now, he’s also only 27 years old and could project well as a starter in the coming years. So, really, the Cubs gave up a player that was never going to help them at the major league level for a player who can help right now, and might play an even bigger role going forward. That’s a win.
But, coming out of the trade, Theo Epstein said a couple of interesting things. First, this doesn’t necessarily take the Cubs out of the Andrew Miller sweepstakes (or Aroldis Chapman, for that matter). Second, the Cubs didn’t give up any prospects in this trade that are among what the front office deems to be its most valuable trading chips.
Based solely off of that second comment, it’s starting to sound like one or more of Billy McKinney, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, Eloy Jimenez, Duane Underwood or Gleyber Torres might not be here come Aug. 1. If I had to guess, Candelario seems like the most obvious candidate to move, followed by guys like Happ, Almora and McKinney.
But the question is, for who? It sounds like the Cubs are all but giving up on the starting pitching market, as most of what’s available is not worth top-tier prospects. And those pitchers that should, in theory, be available (say, Chris Sale or Jose Quintana), aren’t. The Cubs have been linked to Oakland right-fielder Josh Reddick as well, and that does make some sense. He’s having a phenomenal year, hits righties very well and could bring back some of the lefty pop that was lost by Kyle Schwarber’s injury.
However, he’d strictly be a rental, and I’m curious how much future talent Epstein would be willing to give up for a rental. Of course, knowing that, Oakland may not be able to demand much more than a couple of mid-level prospects, which makes the deal a bit more likely in my mind.
Outside of Reddick, the most reasonable option is starting to sound like Aroldis Chapman. He’s almost certainly going to be moved, and the Yankees seem to have a less ridiculous asking price for him than Miller. I’d have to think that some combination of two of the above-listed prospects, plus maybe a mid-level talent, could get the job done on Chapman. It may just take the entirety of the next week to get New York’s asking price down to a sane level.
Of course, if the White Sox do, indeed, go into a fire sale as some reports are beginning to indicate, that could change things.
Finally, as a dark horse, I’m really starting to question whether or not Miguel Montero is going to finish the year on this team. As good of a pitch-framer as he is, and as well as he seems to work with Arrieta, his offense has just not come around. With Willson Contreras looking like he’s here to stay and players like Dexter Fowler, Joe Nathan and – eventually – Jorge Soler returning from various injuries, room has to be made somewhere. And while sending Almora down sounds like an obvious answer, he’s quit simply been more valuable than Montero to this point.
I really wouldn’t be surprised to see Montero included as a toss-in on some deal the Cubs make over the coming week.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
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