The Cubs have reportedly acquired veteran catcher Martín Maldonado from the Royals in exchange for lefty swingman Mike Montgomery. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal was the first to report the news, while MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported the return:
The #Royals have pulled Martin Maldonado from their game. Have been working on a trade. Team not yet known.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 16, 2019
Source: Royals getting Mike Montgomery back from Cubs for Maldonado.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 16, 2019
Maldonado, a Gold Glove winner in 2017, has never been much of a hitter, but he does bring above-average defense behind the plate and has a strong reputation as a catcher who works well with his pitching staffs. The 32-year-old signed a one-year deal with Kansas CIty after Salvador Perez had Tommy John surgery in early March, and he has done a solid job of filling in for the six-time All-Star this year in Kansas City. Over 263 plate appearances, he’s been unspectacular — but not necessarily terrible — at the plate, hitting .227/.291/.366 with six homers.
Though this deal initially seemed curious since the Cubs already have a pair of good catchers in Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini, but that confusion was quickly cleared up as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters that Contreras — the starting catcher for the NL in this year’s All-Star game — is headed to the injured list with a strained arch muscle in his right foot that caused him to exit Saturday’s game early.
Theo Epstein announces the Cubs have acquired catcher Martin Maldonado from the Royals for pitcher Mike Montgomery. All-Star catcher Willson Contreras (foot strain) will be placed on the injured list.— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) July 16, 2019
More: https://t.co/cG5en6x2Cs pic.twitter.com/i8XYVcMZ35
It figures that the 25-year-old Caratini, who has a .289/.369/.485 slash line over 111 plate appearances this season, will get the majority of the playing time in Contreras’ absence. On the other hand, while Caratini has come a long way defensively (0 defensive runs saved and a 0.7 pitch-framing grade according to FanGraphs), Maldonado is clearly the superior defender of the two, having posted seven defensive runs saved, which ties him for fourth among major-league catchers with at least 100 innings caught.
The Royals, who have developed somewhat of a reputation in recent years for bringing back their own, drafted Montgomery in 2008 but traded him to the Rays in December 2012 as part of a blockbuster deal that more notably brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City and sent Wil Myers to Tampa Bay. Montgomery, who began his major-league career with the Mariners before being dealt to the Cubs prior to the deadline in 2016, has been a very valuable swingman for Chicago during its run of success this decade. Over 119 appearances — 38 of them starts — over four years for the Cubs, he has a 3.74 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He’s struggled this year, though, being limited to relief — and often short relief at that, as Tyler Chatwood has been the primary multi-inning bullpen arm for Chicago. Montgomery has a 5.67 ERA and 1.78 WHIP with just 18 strikeouts and a concerning 13 walks over 27 innings this year, and he missed about a month early in the season with a lat strain.
In a move that could get him going on the right track, the Royals will immediately insert Montgomery into their rotation, as GM Dayton Moore told reporters following Monday night’s deal (tweet via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan). Maldonado will be replaced on Kansas City’s roster by 22-year-old backstop Meibrys Viloria, a glove-first backstop who has been just decent offensively in the minors (.264/.344/.332 slash line at Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season) but was able to carry those solid results to the majors last September, posting a surprising .259/.286/.333 line after making the jump from A-ball. He also posted a .983 OPS over 41 Cactus League plate appearances. It’s unclear at this point whether Viloria or Cam Gallagher, Maldonado’s backup for the duration of this season, will receive more playing time over the remainder of the season.