The Dodgers are continuing to hunt for a catching upgrade after losing out on Russell Martin and are one of three teams that have had talks with the Diamondbacks about catcher Miguel Montero, according to Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com.
The Diamondbacks continue to have dialogue with other clubs on a variety of players, including catcher Miguel Montero. However, according to a source, talks regarding Montero have not picked up significantly in the days following the Toronto Blue Jays’ signing of catcher Russell Martin. Among the teams the Diamondbacks have spoken to about Montero are the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.
‘Ugh’ would be my initial reaction to this rumor, but it deserves to be looked at because acquiring a catcher figures to be a significant part of the Dodgers off-season plan.
As you probably know by now, Montero has a reputation (around baseball, but with Dodgers fans, especially) for being part of baseball’s fun police, and he’s also the guy Ian Kennedy said (during an interview on SportsNet LA) was responsible for the 2013 beanings of Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke. So as you can imagine, I’m not thrilled about this from both a chemistry (yeah, yeah) and fan perspective.
In terms of a baseball decision, there’s reason to understand where the front office is coming from. After all, A.J. Ellis put up a .191/.323/.254/.577 line last year, along with throwing out only 25% of baserunners (league average was 28%), and being about 15 runs below average in pitch framing. In his career, Ellis has been better at throwing out runners (33%), but every bit as bad at framing, coming in at ~49 runs below average for his career (2008-14). Thus, as much as we all may love A.J., looking for a replacement as he enters his age-34 season is understandable.
But Montero seems like an odd choice for an upgrade. Yes, he was once one of the league’s better catchers back in 2011-12 when he put up an OPS+ in the 120 range, but for the last two seasons he’s been very mediocre, posting lines of .230/.318/.344/.662 and .243/.329/.370/.699 (OPS+ of 83 and 95, respectively). So what happened? Basically his power has started to disappear. The average distance of his fly balls has gone done yearly from 294 feet to 290 to 288 to 284, and with that decline has gone his home-run rates, even in hitter-friendly Chase Field. That does not figure to get much better in Dodger Stadium, especially as he enters his age-31 season. Furthermore, Defensive Runs Saved has him at -20 runs for his career, and he’s never had a season where he’s even posted a neutral rating on ‘Good Fielding Plays’. Montero was also 29% at throwing out runners last year, which is average, but way down from his peak years at around 40%.
So why would this new Dodgers ‘Geek Squad’ be interested? Probably because from 2007-14, Montero has been about 85 runs above average in pitch framing, and he put up a career-high number at 24 last year. He also has career platoon splits of .797 against righties and .650 against lefties, which could make him an effective platoon candidate with somebody like Ellis (.720 LHP/.686 RHP). Furthermore, despite his worrisome power struggles, he’s still more valuable with the bat than Ellis has been.
That said, while Montero would be a solid upgrade over Ellis, there’s a reason he’s allegedly available: the contract. Ellis is projected to make $3.8 million in 2015, can be non-tendered after next year if the Dodgers want, and hits free agency only after the 2016 season. Montero is locked in to a contract that pays him $40 million over the next three years, which makes a trade for him a commitment over other younger, more flexible potential trade options like Yasmani Grandal, Jason Castro, or Rene Rivera. Those other options also happen to be equal or better upgrades over Ellis as Montero would be, so unless the Dodgers are going to be able to shed Andre Ethier or a contract like that as a result of this, it’s hard to be too optimistic about this potential trade and locking the team in for three years on an aging catcher.