SAN DIEGO – While still waiting for Jon Lester to make his nine-figure free agent decision, the Cubs pulled off their second big move of the winter meetings Tuesday, landing All-Star catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a pair of minor-league pitchers.
“I think the move today was a recognition of the fundamental importance of catching to a good team, to a team that wants to be good and contend,” said team president Theo Epstein, who targeted Montero and free agent catcher Russell Martin from the start of the off-season.
The Cubs sent Class A right-handers Jeferson Mejia, 20, and Zack Godley, 24, to the D-Backs for Montero, a two-time All-Star with three years and $40 million left on his contract.
Despite immediate speculation that incumbent starter Welington Castillo was being shopped – and rumors linking the Cubs’ to Jon Lester’s pal-catcher David Ross – Epstein said the plan is for the lefty-hitting Montero and right-hander Castillo to share the workload.
Epstein said Montero already is agreeable to giving up some at-bats to accommodate that.
“We’re not shopping Welly at all,” he said. “The second that the Montero news came out we got calls from a number of teams about Welly. And we’ll always listen, just because it’d be crazy not to listen.
“But we really like the way those two fit together.”
Montero, 31, was a clubhouse favorite and veteran influence in Arizona, and he’s one of the better catchers in baseball at receiving skills, including pitch framing – a weakness of Castillo.
“He’s a veteran, he cares a lot about winning, he’s pretty vocal, and I think in the right environment he can really be a leader for this ballclub,” Epstein said. “It’s just a perfect fit because we were trying to fit a position-player leader on the team, and we were trying to find a left-handed bat, and someone who gets on base a little bit. He does all those things, at a position where he’s not going to block anybody.”
One of the Cubs’ top hitting prospects, Kyle Schwarber, is a catcher drafted fourth overall in June out of Indiana.
The trade came less than 48 hours after the Cubs’ finalized a two-year, $20 million deal to bring free agent starter Jason Hammel back to the North Side.
MEETINGS BUZZ — Epstein on former Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija going to the White Sox: “I thought it was a great pickup for the White Sox, and the A’s were able to address some areas of need for them as well. So it was a really good baseball trade. And I’m happy for Jeff that he gets to be back close to home, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy his year.” Left unsaid was the fact, according to insiders, that Samardzija is near the top of the Cubs’ early wish list among next year’s free agent class. …Epstein said it’s possible the team could pull off another (non-Lester) move its working on before the meetings conclude Thursday or soon after.