The Rundown: Cubs to Visit White House Again, Montero Mouths Off, Epstein Says (Probably) No Rentals, Harper Stokes Rumors

When the Cubs hurriedly organized their official visit to the White House to meet with Barack Obama last year, it was thought that there was a bit of a statement being made. They weren’t trying to prove any massive point, but it’s clear that some members of the organization preferred not to visit once then-president-elect Donald Trump had taken the oath of office.

But with the Cubs in DC for a four-game set with the Nationals, a second trip to the White House has been set up. It apparently came together after congressman Lou Barletta (R-PA), one of Joe Maddon’s childhood friends from Hazleton, PA, asked his buddy to speak at a luncheon for young Republicans. Maddon had said on Monday that he was “staying in touch with my boy Louie” and that something further might develop.

And develop it has. Along with Maddon and the Ricketts family — sans Laura, a big Democratic donor and mother of a newborn son — the Chicago Sun-Times reports that 12 of the Cubs players they polled plan on heading over to the White House for the second time. This is being billed as an “unofficial” trip, something Todd Ricketts called “more low key and it’s more of a friendly visit.”

There are obvious political implications, particularly among partisan fans, but the Cubs skipper eschewed such motivation when he discussed the trip Tuesday.

“To go is out of respect to the Ricketts family and to the office and the building itself,” Maddon said of his enthusiastic acceptance of the offer. “Listen, I like the United States a lot. I like living here a lot. I like everything that it that it represents a lot. When you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go.

“And whether you like that person that’s running the country or not, out of respect to the office itself you go. I don’t agree with all the other banter that’s going on right now because I have a different perspective.”

Anthony Rizzo was similarly detached when addressing his rationale for making the trip to the place Martin Sheen once called home.

“I’m going because it’s the United States of America and I’d rather not (be) anywhere else but this country,” the first baseman declared. “There’s no political ties. It’s the White House.”

I’ve seen some folks getting up in arms about this visit, but I just can’t bring myself to care much one way or the other. Maddon’s comment about respecting the person running the country is what I go back to, though I can’t imagine ever be in a position to visit the White House via invitation. And even if I was, I don’t have enough notoriety for my acceptance or declination of said offer to ruffle any feathers.

How many and which Cubs players or members of the organization head to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue isn’t going to change my views one way or the other. It’s not going to impact the passage of a new healthcare bill. And it’s not going to make a difference in who these players are or how they perform.

Miggy the bus driver

Among the character traits you could list as belonging to Miguel Montero, “measured” and “judicious” wouldn’t make the cut. So it’s not too surprising that he popped off at the conclusion of a game in which the Nationals stole seven bases with him behind the plate. Who knows, maybe the newly-minted American citizen was simply channeling the host of the Cubs’ White House visit when he threw teammates under the bus during his locker room rant.

“It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me,” Montero lamented. “And when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. So it’s just like, ‘Yeah, okay, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on.

“It’s tough because it doesn’t matter how much work I put on footwork and throwing and everything, because if I don’t get a chance to throw…that’s the reason they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that.”

His subsequent statements (video from Jesse Rogers here) were somewhat less volatile, but no less direct in terms of where the blame for the steals needs to be placed.

“And that’s the thing,” Montero continued. “As soon as you pick up the ball, you see the guy almost on second base, so you really try to be as quick as possible. And when you try to be as quick as possible it gets you out of sync, it gets you out of control. And the next thing you know you got [nothing] on it or you made a bad throw or whatever. It really hurt me. I feel like I can still throw, like I got a good arm.”

Though the play log says Trea Turner hit an infield single and drew a walk in his first two plate appearances, the reality of it is that the young speedster hit two triples. Only the first of his four steals even drew a throw, one that bounced a few feet behind the mound on its way to second. Michael Turner stole two bases of his own, one of which drew a terrible throw that sailed into left field and allowed him to score. Anthony Rendon was responsible for the final theft, in case you care.

The runners generally had huge jumps and there was no chance to get them, which is on Arrieta. So in that regard, Montero is absolutely right when it comes to his own inability or unwillingness to even bother. Where he goes astray is saying that he can still throw, which he really can’t. Comparing him to Willson Contreras makes it seem worse, but Miggy’s arm hasn’t been good for the last couple of years at least.

Beyond the veracity of his statements, though, is the issue of the forum and manner in which he presented them. This is a guy who publicly criticized Joe Maddon for the way his postseason playing time was handled, and that was on Chicago radio in the immediate wake of the World Series victory parade. The two made up over a bottle of red wine in Mesa, but I’m not sure how the pitching staff, particularly Jake Arrieta, will handle this.

So for those fans calling for Montero’s head, remember that his relationship with his pitchers is all that really matters here. If he and Arrieta had talked about it afterwards and the starter offered a mea culpa for putting his backstop in that predicament, we may not hear about this again. If, however, Miggy put Arrieta and others on blast without warning, there could be a serious erosion in the trust necessary for a solid battery.

Either way, I have to think we see a reduction in Montero’s playing time moving forward. He’s logged roughly half as many plate appearances as Contreras to this point and has acquitted himself well at the plate, but he’s an obvious liability behind it.

Epstein reiterates trade strategy

Theo Epstein joined the Bernstein and Goff show on 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon to talk a little more about the Cubs’ strategy heading into the trade deadline. Not that it was really anything new, though there has been some talk lately about them possibly seeking out rental options to flesh out the starting rotation for the second half.

“Those established guys are tough to get at the trade deadline because they usually come at a tremendous premium,” Epstein explained. “We paid a premium last year. It was the right time and place to get reliable, dependable, impact production at the end of the game given everything else that was going on with our club and things we forecasted to happen after July 31st.”

For those of you who just jumped on the bandwagon in November, he’s talking about Mike Montgomery, the man who closed Game 7 of the World Series. Oh, what’s that? He’s talking about Aroldis Chapman? Whatever, same difference. Actually, the acquisition of Montgomery would fall much more in line with what the Cubs will look to do this time around.

“And I think if we do that type of a move this year, it’s probably likely to be for somebody that we can control beyond this year,” Epstein continued. “I’m not sure you’re going to see those type of resources going to any kind of rental player this year.”

The future Hall of Fame exec went on to admit that the Cubs’ mediocrity this year plays a big role in what they’ll be looking to do. When you have a team like they did last year, the holes are fewer and easier to plug. And with a World Series still little more than a century-old fever dream in 2016, they were more willing to push all the chips into the middle in an effort to win it all.

Not that the win has made the Cubs complacent, but there’s no doubt it greatly reduced the urgency with which they’ll operate when looking to make deals. Whereas a rental is all about instant gratification, this is a matter of building for at least 2018, if not beyond. Any acquisition could certainly help this season, but any significant allocation of resources will only be justified by bringing in someone to help them hold the window open for the next few years.

Harper drops a hint?

Take a look at this IG post from Bryce Harper and then meet me on the other side

  • This is a cute picture of a couple MVP-caliber Las Vegas natives and their wives
  • Bryant makes Harper look small
  • Note the hashtag #Back2BackOneDay
    • Does that just mean in the ASG?
    • Is Harper hinting at rumors about his preferred FA landing spot?
    • I shared my thoughts on this topic the last time it came up via Peter Gammons

More news and notes

  • The Braves are reportedly interested in Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, and Jose Quintana
  • The Cubs were among teams scouting Gray’s last start
  • Starlin Castro has been place on the DL with a Grade 1 hamstring strain, but believes he’ll miss only the minimum 10 days
  • Former Cubs righty Jake Buchanan has been DFA’d by the Reds
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