Catch Me If You Can: A Quick Look at the Cubs’ Backstop Situation

Remember when it was crazy to carry three catchers throughout the season? While it was anything but conventional, Joe Maddon and the Cubs made it work, to the extent that all three backstops collected RBI in Game 7 of the World Series. And that’s not even counting Kyle Schwarber, who had an incredible showing after returning from ACL reconstruction.

But the situation is going to be somewhat different heading into 2017, what with the retirement of David Ross and the assumption that Schwarber returns to at least an ancillary role behind the dish. Then you’ve got the continued maturation of Willson Contreras and the diminution of Miguel Montero, the same dude who got his drink on and popped off about not being properly informed of his role on the playoff roster.

There’s no question whatsoever that WillCo is the primary catcher moving forward, but exactly who he’ll be paired with is an interesting topic. I’m thinking specifically of Jon Lester, who is now without his personal caddie. Given his inability to hold runners, it’d be a mistake to put Lester with anyone other than Contreras and his powerful arm. We’ll likely see John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks, and Mike Montgomery (operating under the assumption that he’s the fifth starter) form batteries with the sophomore catcher.

That leaves Jake Arrieta, who has been vocal about having a higher comfort level when working with Montero. It’s not necessarily an ideal combo, what with Arrieta’s slow delivery and Miggy’s suboptimal arm. Then again, those things don’t matter if you can limit baserunners. And if Arrieta can get back to throwing free and easy, not leaning back and over-rotating, he and Montero can still be a formidable pair.

Okay, so where does that leave Schwarber? He’ll still have a role, though it’ll likely be reduced from what we saw in 2015. I can see him getting a start behind the plate every 10 days or so, perhaps with Hendricks, who has a good pickoff move and isn’t quite as easy to run on as his fellow starters. Lackey, a noted strike-thrower, is another potential battery-mate for War Bear.

We’re basically looking at Montero taking on the Grandpa Rossy role of getting one start each time through the rotation, with Schwarber picking one up every two times through and Contreras handling the rest. Sounds pretty simple, but Maddon’s real task here may be balancing egos. Probably not much of an issue for Schwarber, but Montero is going to have to swallow his pride in order to make this work. As long as the lines of communication are open from the jump, though, we won’t hear any more criticism from him (of him might be a different story).

There’s also the possibility that the Cubs part ways with Montero, though I can’t see that happening. He’s making too much and his skills have eroded enough that he’s really not worth anything in a trade, so that’s out. Releasing him doesn’t make sense, either, as you’re still on the hook for his salary and he’s still a serviceable backup. Besides, do you really want to go into the season with only Contreras and Schwarber behind the plate? Didn’t think so.

Maddon has already proven adept at balancing a trio of catchers and now he’s got even more positional flexibility with two of them. Ross’s general presence and rocket arm will be missed, but the young backstops he mentored have got more than enough personality to pick up the slack. I’m very much looking forward to what Contreras in particular can do when he’s handed the reins on a full-time basis.

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