Team (role) player: Cubs’ Mike Montgomery wants to start, but wants to win more
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MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs have told Mike Montgomery, and anyone asking about Montgomery, that he is a bona fide major-league starter.
“I really think this guy’s capable of 10 to 15 wins if he’s given the opportunity,” manager Joe Maddon said — last spring.
But, if anything, the left-hander’s chances of ever becoming a bona fide member of a five-man rotation for this team have gone from slim to slimmer since then and are fast approaching none with the signing of Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million contract.
That deal put five multimillion-dollar starters under club control for the next two years — three if Darvish doesn’t exercise his opt-out clause after 2019. And that doesn’t count rehabbing Drew Smyly, who could enter the mix next spring after signing in December.
So what happened to that “capable of 10 to 15 wins” sentiment the staff and front office keep talking about?
“I hear you on that,” Montgomery said. “I think I’m going to be a really good [starter].”
He has shown as much in 19 starts for the Cubs since being acquired from the Mariners two summers ago, including 14 as an injury replacement last year that might have been the difference in making the playoffs.
Montgomery, 28, made those feelings clear in December when he spoke up about wanting a legitimate shot to win a starting job and to avoid the swingman role that he considers a potential health risk.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, make me a starter or I get traded,’ ” he said Wednesday, the first official day of spring training. “It wasn’t that black and white. It was just, ‘Hey, I want to be a starter.’
“People can take it however they want to take it. It’s no big deal. I think it’s obvious I want to do that, and I think it’s just a matter of time and place and situation.”
If anything, Montgomery wants to make this feeling clear, as well: Even in the same role as last year, he doesn’t want to be anywhere else anytime soon.
“I definitely want to be here,” he said. “I know I want to be a starter, but, look, being a part of this team the last couple years, it’s a special group, and we not only have a good team, but I’ve never had more fun playing baseball.”
Other teams seemed to sense an opportunity when the Cubs signed Darvish, with the Cubs getting several calls about trades. At least one team, the Phillies, talked with the Cubs about Montgomery long before the Darvish deal looked close.
But his value to the Cubs might be as great as ever, with already high postseason expectations skyrocketing and his role having become so important for the pitching staff.
Already well-liked in the clubhouse, Montgomery’s team-oriented perspective in the face of a return to sixth-starter status only adds to his value, Maddon said.
“Guys in his situation, it’s not easy,” Maddon said. “A lot of times guys like that would want to go somewhere else badly or would not be as willing or accepting of their role.”
Montgomery talked with Maddon and team president Theo Epstein over the winter about avoiding some of the more taxing turnarounds, such as the time in September he came out of the bullpen to get four outs just three days after a six-inning start.
“Being in a unique role is something that I take pride in, as well,” he said. “I just want to make sure my arm is healthy, my body, because last year was definitely a tough year physically. I’m not gonna lie. During the playoffs, I could definitely feel the wear and tear of the regular season. So we’ll try to even that out a little bit.”
He said he’d be surprised if he got traded, but he added, “This is baseball. You never know. I plan on being here.”
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