NEW YORK — It’s been a hell of a week for Miguel Montero. Last Tuesday, after catching a Jake Arrieta start for the Chicago Cubs in which the Washington Nationals successfully stole seven bases with Montero behind the plate, the veteran catcher stood in front of his locker and offered a very blunt assessment of who was to blame for it all.
"It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me. And when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time," Montero said. "So, it’s just like, ‘Yeah, okay, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ But my pitcher doesn’t hold anybody on.
"That’s the reason why they were running left and right today. Because they know [Arrieta] was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out."
Well, that certainly didn’t go over well. Less than 24 hours later, Montero was designated for assignment while a chorus line of Cubs went public with their displeasure over his commentary, including his teammates, his manager and his GM, Theo Epstein, who said, "this was an example of being a bad teammate publicly, and we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that."
A week later, Montero sat in the visitors’ dugout at Yankee Stadium on July 4 wearing Blue Jays colours after being shipped not only to a new team, not only to a new league, but to an entirely new country by the Cubs, who traded him to Toronto on Monday for the mere benefit of not having to pay the entire remainder of his $14-million salary this season. Montero will now begin anew with the last-place Blue Jays and try to put a very bad week behind him.
"It wasn’t the perfect departure. But it is what it was. I live in the moment and I don’t really look back at the past right now," Montero said. "It happened — it’s over. So, I’m just worried about today.
"I don’t want to look back on what happened. It already happened," he continued. "I had a great time in Chicago. I respect the fans, I respect the city, I respect my teammates. And it’s over now. I’ve got a new team to worry about right now. I’m just looking forward to this now."
To Montero’s credit, he’s apologized thoroughly both in public and private, where he says he and Arrieta are "good friends, and we still are."
You can also make a convincing case — as Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs did — that Montero had a point, or at least half of one. As Sawchik points out, while Montero has been one of the worst-rated catchers in MLB when it comes to Statcast’s pop-time this season, Arrieta’s consistently deliberate deliveries to the plate didn’t do his catcher any favours that day. It wasn’t all Montero’s fault and it wasn’t all Arrieta’s, either.
Of course, if Montero has a shortcoming, it’s that he can speak a little too candidly in the heat of the moment when it would be best to sidestep a reporter’s question and offer the milquetoast professional athlete platitudes that are so often complained about. That’s not a win for honesty and forthrightness, but it would definitely go over much better in whichever clubhouse he’s playing in.
"I’m very emotional because I care — I care for the team and every single guy on the field," Montero said. "And I want to win. I hate losing. I guess that’s who I am."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he hasn’t addressed the controversy with Montero and that he wasn’t planning to.
"It was just something that happened. I’m not worried about that," Gibbons said. "But I will tell you I’ve heard nothing but good things about Montero. Baseball’s a big fraternity and you hear from everybody about certain players and what they’re like. And I’ve heard nothing but great things about the guy. I’ve heard he’s a great team guy, he’s still very productive, you’ll love him. And that’s not always the case. When you acquire somebody, someone’s going to take a jab every now and then. But it’s all been good stuff."
Montero will serve as Toronto’s backup catcher, while possibly also getting some time at designated hitter when Gibbons wants to insert a left-handed bat into his lineup against a tough right-hander. Montero put up a .727 OPS over 244 plate appearances against right-handed pitching last season.
The 33-year-old spent his first day with the Blue Jays working with the club’s starting catcher, Russell Martin, and his new coaching staff to learn Toronto’s signs and the tendencies of the team’s various pitchers. He caught Francisco Liriano’s bullpen session to get an up-close look at one of Toronto’s most challenging assignments for a catcher, and Gibbons says he’ll be searching for a way to get Montero in the lineup as soon as possible.
"I feel great mentally and physically. I’m excited to be a part of the team. I’m looking forward to helping some way, some how," Montero said. "Honestly, I don’t care what my role is. I just want to help. Wherever [Gibbons] needs me, I’ll be here for him and the team. I’m just ready to do whatever they want."