How ‘bout the timing of that Martín Maldonado trade, huh? Just a few days after dealing the veteran backstop to Houston for Tony Kemp, a move believed to be at least partially motivated by a need to clear salary for subsequent trades, the Cubs lost Willson Contreras for four weeks to a Grade 2 hamstring strain.
While it’s possible to look at the Maldonado trade in light of recent developments and rail against the Cubs’ inexplicable frugality or their lack of foresight, the timing really skews things. You can’t anticipate injuries and it was pretty evident that the Cubs weren’t going to be carrying three catchers, one of whom wasn’t hitting his weight, given their other needs.
And knowing that the reason Maldonado declined to sign with the Cubs this winter was because they couldn’t offer him enough playing time, you had to figure he wasn’t going to be happy playing third fiddle. Jed Hoyer confirmed as much Monday when he spoke to the media about the current catching situation.
“Candidly, a lot of it came down to player happiness,” Hoyer said. “It’s hard to keep three guys happy. We weren’t entirely confident it wouldn’t impact all three guys in a negative way.”
It sounds like he’s just trying not to throw Maldonado under the bus here, but it’s pretty evident which one of the three would be least pleased with his playing time. And after trading Mike Montgomery to Kansas City due in no small part to his displeasure with his own reduced role, the Cubs weren’t trying to face the same issues with the player they got in return for the lefty.
Of course, that might have a different feel had Contreras been injured earlier or had the Cubs held onto Maldonado just in case. As it is, they’re forced to sleep in a bed that was made with the sheets pulled way too tight at the foot by the absence of waiver trades.
Victor Caratini is a very capable backup and is better in some nuances of his craft than Contreras, but a first-place team shouldn’t be relying on Taylor Davis as the primary backup for long. Which means turning over a stone or three to see what kind of depth they can add for the remainder of the month.
“We’ll try to be as creative as we can and scour all the available players,” Hoyer said. “Our depth is being tested, there’s no doubt…And we’ll do everything we can to find the right way to address our depth.”
Jonathan Lucroy has been mentioned quite a bit since being designated for assignment by the Angels, who have since released on the 33-year-old former All-Star. Gordon Wittenmyer reported that Lucroy is indeed a target, though how the Cubs prefer to go about acquiring him may again be tied to their financial concerns.
Any team could have claimed him on waivers, but that meant assuming the remainder of his $3.35 million contract. If the Cubs had to shed a little less than $900,000 with Maldonado and then needed special permission from Tom Ricketts to add the remainder of Nicholas Castellanos’ $9.95 million, they wouldn’t have assumed Lucroy’s deal like that.
The cheaper, and a little more risky since it would require every other team to pass on the catcher, option was to hope he cleared waivers and then sign him to a prorated portion of the league minimum. Even the penny-pinchingest team in the world can take on $150,000 or so, right? If, that is, he wanted to sign with the Cubs.
Rogers also brought up the possibility of former Cub René Rivera, who’s in Triple-A with the Mets and could be had in a minor-league trade. The 36-year-old has some history with the current rotation and quickly established a rapport after being brought aboard in 2017, so bringing him back makes sense on more than one level.
Neither of these players should be seen as anything more than a stopgap, but Lucroy is probably the more desirable option all things considered. While his once-formidable skills at and behind the dish have eroded considerably since his days in Milwaukee, a return to the NL Central could spark a brief renaissance.
Expect the Cubs to make a move one way or another in the next few days in order to solidify their catching situation as soon as possible.