Montero's demotion another chapter in Cubs' 'slog'

 
 
Updated 6/29/2017 8:05 AM
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  • The Chicago Cubs have designated catcher Miguel Montero for release.

    The Chicago Cubs have designated catcher Miguel Montero for release. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON -- For the first two years of Joe Maddon's reign as manager of the Chicago Cubs, it was all pretty much fun and games.

The Cubs laughed, danced and partied all the way to a World Series title last fall.

This year has been different. As general manager Jed Hoyer put it Wednesday, it's been a "slog," with the team unable to get clear of .500.

So when a touch of poison appeared in the clubhouse chemistry, Hoyer, Maddon and team president Theo Epstein acted quickly to purify it.

Just hours after veteran catcher Miguel Montero blamed pitcher Jake Arrieta for the Washington Nationals stealing seven bases Tuesday night, the Cubs designated Montero for assignment.

"I called him last night after he got back to the hotel and just told him why his comments were unacceptable and reminded him of the standard we kind of hold our players to when it comes to being supportive of one's teammates and being accountable for one's play and for being a good teammate," Epstein told the Cubs beat writers on a phone call. "I just reminded Miggy that we expect when something goes wrong on the field, we expect our players to take the blame, to step up and proactively assume the blame for it, even if it's not their fault.

"That's the way to be a good teammate and to get someone to lighten someone else's load and assume responsibility for yourself. And he completely agreed when it was pointed out to him. He apologized. He realized that he had, in his words, messed up, and I told him we'd sleep on it and talk today. We did."

Following the Cubs' 6-1 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday, Montero said: "It really (stinks) because the stolen bases go with me. When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn't give me any time.

"So it's like, 'Yeah, Miggy can't throw nobody out, but my pitchers don't hold anybody on … If I don't get a chance to throw, that's the reason they were running left and right today because they know he (Arrieta) was slow to the plate."

One may cynically speculate that if Montero were not 0-for-31 in throwing out baserunners, this move would not have been made.

"I think that's a fair question," Epstein said. "I think it's hard to act just absolutely when you're taking about a core performer, someone that the team relies on night in, night out. I can't say it wouldn't have been as swift. That's just the reality of the situation."

In the dugout before Wednesday night's game, Maddon said there was more to it even though Arrieta said he and the Cubs could have put this behind them and moved ahead without problems.

Maddon and Montero had dinner in spring training to iron out friction based on comments Montero made last fall about how he was used in the postseason.

"Regardless of what Jake said regarding Miggy, that it would not have impacted the clubhouse, I think it would have," Maddon said. "There's too many young guys, too many young guys in there that impressionable. It's not like a group of veterans that could separate and dissect it properly to the point where they could walk with what's necessary and drop off what's not.

"With this young and impressionable group, to me, and a really good group that's going to be together for a long time, you don't want to foster or nurture or condone that kind of message."

Montero told mlb.com the move was not unexpected.

"I really thought maybe something was going to happen," he told the site. "I understand, I totally understand. If I'm going to take the blame and the team takes off from now, I'll feel much better. I really want to see them succeed, every single guy.

"I talked to Jake last night, and I said to him, 'Jake, I apologize, I didn't mean to say what I said.' "

Arrieta, who is slow in his delivery to home plate with runners on base, said he had no problem with Montero.

"Sad to see him go," he said. "Just an unfortunate situation. We talked. I love Miggy. As you guys know, he'll say some things from the heart, the way he feels. He's open and honest. That's the way Miggy is. He regretted what he said. He felt bad about it. I told him I'm not upset or mad at him. I didn't see the comments and I don't care what they were."

Epstein kept coming back to the idea of team identity. No matter that the Cubs brought back largely the same squad that won the World Series last year, a new year always changes the identity of a team.

"Had we already been in a spot where this team had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders and had overcome adversity and come together completely as a team and were rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently, by the group, without action from above," Epstein said.

"But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization, as individuals and collectively as a group."

I asked Epstein if the team's state of mind regarding the "identity" is fragile.

"No, it's just that it's an important time for us to come together as a team and for us to establish our identity," he said. "It's been obviously a little bit of a disjointed start to the season. We really haven't gotten on a roll yet. We haven't performed as we know we're capable as a group.

"There's been enough injuries. There's been some turnover and lack of continuity in the clubhouse to a certain extent. I don't think we've established our identity.

"I don't think we've found our edge yet that we'll need to win games. Wins don't just happen because you're talented and show up. You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team every day and play to win and play with a certain edge that we're striving for as a group. And we're gong to find it."

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