MESA, Ariz. — Manager Joe Maddon said last week he felt no need to clear the air with catcher Miguel Montero. But that didn’t stop him from asking one of his more vocal clubhouse critics to dinner Monday night to talk privately, away from the ballpark.
“It was the right thing to do,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We have all our individual meetings. We felt that one warranted a little bit more time.”
The summit over red wine and pasta at a small Italian restaurant in Scottsdale came less than four months after Montero had criticized Maddon during an interview on WMVP-AM (1000) for lack of communication and lack of playing time in the regular season and postseason.
It could become one of the more important dialogues of the season for a team with a repeat in its sights, and given the veteran Montero’s respected place in the clubhouse.
“We both wanted to talk to each other,” said Montero, describing the dinner meeting (which also included coach Henry Blanco) as amazing and productive. “Our main goal right now is 2017. We both agreed on that. Pretty much all I said was, ‘You know what, man, let me in. I want to be part of it. I want you to trust me. I can help in different ways. I know what my role is, which is fine. I’m good with that. All I want to be is helpful for the team. I’m here for you, so you can count on me. Give me an opportunity to help you in different ways.’ ’’
Montero, a two-time All-Star and career starter until being traded to the Cubs before the 2015 season, lost starting time to three-man catching rotations the last two years and to rookie Willson Contreras’ emergence last year, at the same time Montero slumped.
“I got a lot off my chest,” Montero said, “because I care so much for the game. I care so much for the team.
“I’m here to win. And it’s hard when you have that on your shoulders and your chest. And vice-versa. I’ve never been a cancer anywhere I’ve played for all these years, and I’m not planning to be one of those guys.”
Hoyer suggested that kind of extra communication can be especially valuable because players are sure to feel slighted at times over such things as playing time because the Cubs have All-Stars at virtually every position.
In the “borderline delirious” moments for players immediately after the World Series, “I don’t think you take a lot of those things really seriously,” Hoyer said of Montero’s critical remarks the day of the Cubs’ parade.
But make no mistake: It was serious enough to enough people in the organization — and certainly Montero — to make Monday’s conversation important, even after Maddon downplayed the issue.
“Really there was not a lot of hashing about the past,” Maddon said. “It was about now and what’s going to happen next. He can be a valuable liaison between the coaches and the room because of how long he’s been around.
“I love people that speak their mind. If somebody disagrees with me, it’s not about getting angry with them. It’s about understanding, and hopefully I’m going to learn something. Miggy’s got the experience, and right now he understands exactly what’s going on here, and he’s going to do nothing but benefit us now and in the years to come.”
For all the lost playing time last year, Montero came up big in the postseason, hitting a crucial grand slam against the Dodgers, driving in a key run in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series and catching the last pitch of the Series.
“We’ve got a special team,” Montero said, “and we have a legitimate chance to win another championship. In order to do that, we need to be together here, and I think we are. And we’re going to stay that way.”