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Catching Heat

Willson Contreras is not good enough defensively. He is a terrible pitch framer and almost as bad at the fundamental task of stopping pitches in the dirt.

He is not a championship catcher, plain and simple.

Theo Epstein used Contreras's injury and subsequent trip to the Injured List as a pretext for finalizing a deal with the Royals for veteran Martin Maldonado this week. And perhaps that will assuage Contreras's feelings about the deal.

But this was not a trade for 10 days, not even close. This was a trade for finishing out the season with Maldonado in position to do a lot of catching and for Joe Maddon to then have the flexibility to use Contreras and Victor Caratini in the corner outfield spots and first base.

What's that you say, Contreras played a key role behind the plate for the World Series-winning Cubs in 2016? In crunch time, David Ross was behind the plate. And that is where Mr. Maldonado will be this time around.

No way the Cubs trade Mike Montgomery for a third catcher. And remember, as Theo so helpfully reminded us on Tuesday, Maldonado essentially took over as the Astros' lead catcher down the stretch and through their playoff run last year. He has experience and he has experience when the stakes are high.

Montgomery has had a rough year but he is still the same guy who was so good for the Cubs last year, making 19 starts and posting a 3.61 ERA. He wants to start and you had the feeling that being back in the bullpen this time around wasn't exactly a great motivator for him.

The lefty was almost somber as he bowed out of Chicago, remembering so many good times and. of course, the recording of the final out of the World Series championship. We also remember at this time that Montgomery has talked about the fact that he was exhausted during that outing because Maddon had warmed him up three times before getting him up again for the 10th and finally bringing him in. Despite his fatigue, Montgomery recorded the biggest outs in Cubs history.

So it is a bummer to leave that behind. My guess is also that Montgomery knows he will miss life on the North Side. However, here is his chance to pitch every fifth day and finally, absolutely establish himself as a major league starter. He gets a fresh start in in a new town.

Back here in Chicago, so many commentators still refuse to talk about the fact that this trade was made because of Contreras's defensive deficiencies. Watching Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville on the NBC Sports Chicago's Baseball Night in Chicago was just ridiculous. Guillen thought Contreras's injury must be worse than advertised and Glanville was just completely clueless.

The Cubs will have to be careful with Contreras in the outfield because, as Theo noted on Tuesday, a baseball player stresses different muscles to play there than he does to catch. My guess is when Conteras comes back he will start a majority of games behind the plate but he won't finish them there. Maybe if the Cubs are behind he moves to left or right to keep his bat in the lineup. And maybe if they are winning he just comes out.

Of course, they won't be winning much if Maddon keeps going with the ridiculous lineup he deployed again last night. Management might have to stage an intervention to force Maddon to acknowledge that Kyle Schwarber batting first and Javy Baez second is the worst lineup he could put out there.

The Cubs were so fortunate that Alec Mills and the 'pen held the Reds down on a night when the Cubs should have scored a half dozen runs easily. Yes, Schwarber hit the pop fly home run into the basket that won the game, but before that he never got the ball out of the infield in his first four at-bats.

One-for-five doesn't cut it but it is an expected outcome for a player whose on-base percentage was ready to dip below .320 again before the final hit.

Maybe Maldonado can lead off.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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