It wasn’t that long ago that the Chicago Cubs had some of the best team chemistry in the league as they rolled to a World Series win.
But that was last year, and this season has been a far different story.
The Cubs struggled out of the gate and are hovering just around .500 as the All-Star break inches closer. If that wasn’t enough, drama is starting to brew in the clubhouse. That became evident after catcher Miguel Montero received what may have been his last strike June 28. The Cubs cut ties with Montero by designating him for assignment, just one day after he publicly criticized battery mate Jake Arrieta.
Montero and Arrieta have been teammates for three seasons, and whatever tensions there may have been apparently came to head and resulted in the catcher’s departure from the main roster.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Montero Blamed Arrieta for the Cubs’ June 27 Loss to the Nationals
The struggling Cubs suffered another defeat on June 27, this time a 6-1 loss at the hands of the Washington Nationals.
After the game, though, Montero expressed his frustration with Arrieta “allowing stolen bases” to media members. The Nationals stole a franchise-record seven bases in the game.
“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 OK 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 he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”
First baseman Anthony Rizzo was quick to defend Arrieta in an interview with ESPN 1000 on June 28, saying he disagreed with Montero going public with his frustrations. He added that he should have spoken about it privately with Arrieta.
He’s frustrated. He’s obviously frustrated. When anytime anyone steals seven bases, Miggy gets frustrated. It’s his second time barking at the media and not just going to his teammates. As a veteran like he is, you’d think he’d make smart decisions about it.
Just hours later, Montero was designated for assignment, and Chicago called up Victor Caratini up from Iowa to replace him.
2. Montero Also Criticized Joe Maddon Last Season
Montero also had a public spat against Cubs manager Joe Maddon over a lack of playing time. In an interview with ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy Show, Montero said he was upset about not seeing the field enough and also Maddon’s usage of closer — at the time — Aroldis Chapman.
“I think the toughest part for me is they never communicated with me,” Montero said in the November 2016 interview. “I’m a veteran guy. They talk about veteran leadership. I have 11 years in the game and two All-Star (appearances).
“I expected to be treated a little better. I was expected to get communication. Just let me know. Put me in the loop. That was the toughest part for me because I never understood what my role was going to be.”
Months later, during spring training before the 2017 season, Maddon and Montero cleared the air over an Italian dinner in Scottsdale, Arizona, Jesse Rogers of ESPN reported.
“We both wanted to talk to each other,” Montero said to Rogers of the meeting. “This is 2017. We turn the page. We both agreed on that. All I said was, ‘Let me in. I want to be part of it. You can trust me.’”
3. Montero & Arrieta Had a ‘Good Comfort’ Level Last Season
Montero hadn’t received a lot of playing time in the second-half of the 2016 season, but he finally saw it increase prior to the postseason.
Arrieta and Montero worked together as a battery in late September for the first time since August 12, and Maddon liked what he saw.
“Quite frankly, I’m not gonna lie — I wanted to see that,” Maddon said after Arietta’s seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts in the win. “Miggy did a great job with him. They were outstanding together.”
The dynamic in the battery appeared to pay off, as Arrieta posted a 1.99 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP with Montero as catcher in six-straight starts.
Arrietta told CSN Chicago that he liked the way that Montero operated as a catcher compared to others on the roster.
We work well together,” the pitcher said of Montero. I work well with Willson and with Rossy, but Miggy and I have worked together for quite a bit of time now throughout the last couple years. He knows the way my stuff works.
He has little nuances, little mannerisms that he makes behind the plate that can help me get back on track from time to time and it’s nice to have a guy like that who can really pick things out visually and relay a message to me by something small that helps me get back in line.
4. Montero Was the Catcher in Arrieta’s First MLB No-Hitter
Arrieta has been one of the best Cubs pitchers in recent memory, and he made history by becoming the first pitcher in franchise history to record two no-hitters.
During the first one on August 30, 2015, Montero was the one behind the plate. Before the game, though, he was campaigning for his pitcher to be the MVP. After it, he had another reason for his claim.
Arrieta capped his dominant season by blanking the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 and gliding to the no-hitter with 12 strikeouts and just one walk.
“Every time he goes out he’s like Felix Hernandez, there’s a good chance he’s going to throw a no-hitter,” Montero said after the game about Arrieta to reporters. “He works as hard as anybody in the game, and that’s his reward right there.”
Arrieta had another no-hitter in 2016, but David Ross was behind the plate.
5. Montero Has Been in the League 4 Years Longer Than Arrieta
Montero is a veteran behind the plate. He started his professional career in 2006 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and played there for nine seasons before finding his way to the Cubs, where he won his first-ever World Series. He was an All-Star in 2011 and 2014 with the Diamondbacks.
Arrieta, on the other hand, is playing his eighth professional season. He started his career with the Baltimore Orioles, but never could hit his stride. That’s until he came out of nowhere with the Cubs. He won 10 games in 2014 and had career-best numbers during the 2015 season. He had 22 wins with a career-best 1.77 ERA and won the Cy Young Award.