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Cubs trade for lefty reliever Mike Montgomery, not done dealing

Mike Montgomery

Did the Cubs get their Andrew Miller for the bullpen without having to go through the Yankees?

Not likely. But the comparison crossed team president Theo Epstein’s mind as the Cubs landed left-hander Mike Montgomery and a pitching prospect Wednesday in a four-player trade with the Mariners that sent hitting prospect Dan Vogelbach and pitching prospect Paul Blackburn to Seattle.

“He’s certainly not a household name, but we think he’s got a chance to take off and maybe be the type of guy that you can’t get with a deal of this size,” said Epstein, who has also targeted the Yankees’ hard-throwing bullpen lefties, Miller and Aroldis Chapman, both veteran All-Stars.

With more than a week before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, Epstein’s front office isn’t done working on deals, he said, adding that players such as the second-year Montgomery are in a “different bucket” than the “established impact guys” (i.e., Miller and Chapman) who could cost much more and go down to the final hours before the deadline.

“We’ll still be in on those guys,” Epstein said.

But the 6-foot-5 Montgomery, who has a 2.34 ERA and mid-90s fastball, won’t become arbitration eligible until after the 2018 season.

He could be an immediate boost for a bullpen that also could add six-time All-Star Joe Nathan in the next few days as he finishes a lengthy rehab from Tommy John surgery.

“Big arm,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who had Montgomery briefly in Tampa Bay as a prospect in 2014. “Good guy.”

Montgomery, a 36th overall draft pick in 2008, had just rejoined the Mariners rotation for two starts after 30 relief appearances (2.15 ERA).

“Sometimes with these bullpen pieces, it’s important to get them when they’re on the way there, when they haven’t truly arrived yet,” said Epstein, who traded for Miller in Boston six years ago and watched him turn into a shut-down, late-inning force.

“I’m not saying he’s Andrew Miller; very few are,” Epstein added of Montgomery. “But if you wait until they’re fully established sometimes the price tag is so high that they’re virtually impossible to acquire. But if your scouts do a good job at identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction, and you’re willing to take a shot, sometimes there is a big payoff in the end.”

Montgomery, a starter throughout his professional career until this year, has held lefty hitters to a .164 average this season (.523 OPS).

“It kind of hit me by surprise,” said Montgomery, who was “a little sad” to leave Seattle. “But at the same time, I looked at it as, `I’m excited to go to a good team, and I’m ready to contribute any way I can and help them win a World Series.’ ”

He would be the third lefty in the bullpen (also Travis Wood, Clayton Richard), pending corresponding moves.

“I know we don’t have too many lefties in the bullpen. To me it’s a good sign,” said closer Hector Rondon. “Especially for [setup man Pedro Strop] and me, we’ll maybe be more fresh. I think it’s good for us.”

Epstein said Montgomery could be a rotation candidate “down the road” for the Cubs.

“Things can change quickly,” said Montgomery, who threw a between-starts bullpen Wednesday before getting the news. “I’ve learned that being traded a couple times before.”

Montgomery, who was originally drafted by the Royals, was one of seven players involved in the Wil Myers-James Shields trade with Tampa Bay in December 2012. He was traded to Seattle near the end of spring training last year.

“At the same time, I’m going to a good city, a good organization,” Montgomery said, “and I’m excited to meet more people over there and contribute over there.”

Vogelbach, a second-round pick in 2011, was hitting .318 with a .425 on-base percentage at Class AAA Iowa. He leads the Cubs’ minor league system in home runs (16) and RBIs (64).

Because he can’t play a position other than first base and is an ideal DH fit, Vogelbach, 23, has been a trade candidate for years, and with his breakout AAA season, his value has never been higher. The trade could mean a big-league debut soon.

“I’m sad to see Dan go,” Epstein said. “But we’re also happy for him to get an opportunity to go to an American League club. You can bet he’s going to be around for a really long time.”

Blackburn, 22, a right-hander taken with the 56th overall pick in 2012, was 6-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 18 starts for Class AA Tennessee this year.

In addition to Montgomery, the Cubs received Jordan Pries, 26, a 30th-round right-hander from Stanford who was 7-3 with a 5.14 ERA as a swingman between AA and AAA this year.

The efforts of the front office to bolster a team with designs on October was not lost on the veterans in the clubhouse.

“A team in first place that was four wins away from going to the World Series last year and got off to the start we’ve gotten off to,” said David Ross, “you’re looking at the prize at the end of the season.

“It’s important that [the front office] sends a strong message to the team in my opinion.”