Montgomery to Cubs: ‘I’ve proven I can [start] and want opportunity’

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery is clear about at least one thing: He doesn’t want out of Chicago.

But he’s even more serious about another: He wants out of the Cubs bullpen.

Montgomery, whose ability to fill in effectively in the rotation to cover injuries was a big part of last year’s playoff appearance, didn’t refute a report Tuesday night that he wanted to start in 2018 or wanted to go someplace else where he could.

“I don’t have a lot to say in that. They have control of my rights and my contract,” he said by phone Wednesday between workouts in Arizona. “I’m going to be nice. I’m not going to say trade me or else. I just want them to know I am serious about starting.

When it comes to a Cubs rotation spot, Mike Montgomery wants next.

“I’ve always been team-first. But I don’t know if the role I’ve been doing the last few years is physically in my best interest. Going back and forth is really tough to do. I don’t think it’s much more than that.”

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Montgomery, one of the more likable and respected players in a close-knit clubhouse, also has been an important linchpin for the pitching side of the Cubs’ success the last two seasons as a swingman.

“I love Chicago. It’s been unbelievable the last two years,” he said. “I want to stay there, the rest of my career if possible. It’s not a matter of being unhappy. It’s just a matter of [the fact] I want to be a starter, and proven I can do it, and want the opportunity.”

Because of Montgomery’s personality and history, the Cubs don’t consider his comments a problem or detriment for the team.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near that,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If he were a selfish person or a bad teammate or someone who wanted to try to put himself completely before his 24 teammates, we’d have a problem. But that’s not who he is.

“You fall back on who the person is, and I believe in Mike Montgomery,” added Epstein, who said Montgomery will be stretched out as a starter in spring training before any decision is made – regardless of who the Cubs add. “He’s a team player. He’s a member of this organization in good standing. I think he’s added a lot to our culture, and he’s someone that we have a good relationship with.”

Montgomery, who recorded the final out of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series for his first career save, has made 21 starts for the Cubs in the year and a half since being acquired in a trade from Seattle. He’s 6-6 with a 3.86 ERA in those starts – and has a 2.35 ERA in 72 relief appearances with the Cubs.

That included 14 starts last season because of injuries to Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta, including six impressive innings in late September to beat the Rays and Chris Archer – one of several pitchers linked at times to the Cubs in their search this winter to acquire starters that would be slotted ahead of Montgomery in the rotation pecking order.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday night that the Montgomery report “caught me by surprise” because “we’ve had no dialogue with Mike whatsoever about that.”

Epstein, who plans to reach out to Montgomery at some point after Thursday’s conclusion of the meetings, acknowledged the difficulty in bouncing between the pen and rotation but doesn’t consider it permanent.

Regardless, the team’s needs come first, even if they don’t always align with the player’s, he said.

“This may evolve into one of those times,” Epstein said. “And he will have to wear it. And his day will come; it might just not be right now. But I don’t think this is one of those times, because I don’t look at a five-man rotation as being in stone.”

He said a six-man rotation, for at least part of the season, is a possibility.

Montgomery just knows he’s ready to be a full-time starter, and the Cubs know his feelings on it.

“I’ve made it clear to anyone I’ve talked to,” said Montgomery, who went into the offseason viewing free agent departures from the rotation as opportunities for 2018 that weren’t there the last two years.

Then he watched the Cubs sign Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal, sign rehabbing Drew Smyly anticipating a place in the 2019 rotation and continue to talk about adding another starter.

“I don’t know if the opportunity is maybe as much as what I’ve been looking for,” he said. “They’re the team. They get to make the decisions. I want to make it clear I want to be a starter. That’s my goal. I know I can be a starter in this league.

“I don’t want to be in a situation where I come into spring training and deserve a spot and it’s not there because of other contracts they’ve brought in.”

He said he’s not thinking much about that at this point, even if sometimes might seem to him he could be the pitcher they’re looking for – right under their nose.

“I’ve been really motivated this offseason to really get back to work and challenge myself more than any other offseason,” he said of his five-day-a-week training regimen.

And prove he belongs in the rotation, that he’s one of the Cubs’ best five options.

“I’ve been trying to prove that since really I got in the league,” he said. “I’m always going to have to go out there and prove it. I’m ready for the challenge.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com