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Trade Retrospective: Cubs take advantage of the Diamondbacks selling low on Miguel Montero

A sell off that began with Didi Gregorius continued with the Dbacks trading Montero to the Cubs.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

Shortly after they traded Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, the Diamondbacks decided to continue their fire sale by trading Miguel Montero to the Cubs. The Dbacks preferred money to talent, opting to save the $40 million on Montero’s contract and accept two low level prospects in Jeferson Mejía and Zack Godley.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

As mentioned in last week’s look back at the Gregorius trade, the Diamondbacks had bottomed out in the 2014 season and were in rebuilding mode with new GM Dave Stewart. The Cubs, on the other hand, were finishing up their rebuild. This was the offseason when they decided to go for it.

The Cubs made some big moves that winter. They would sign Jon Lester less than a week after this trade, and they acquired Dexter Fowler the following month, which will be covered in next week’s entry to this series. One could make the argument that the Cubs were being a little aggressive after winning only 73 games in 2014, but the price on the Montero trade was low enough that it made sense regardless.

Montero used to be one of the best catchers in baseball. He cracked 5.0 WARP in 2011 and 2012, thanks to a 120 DRC+ and excellent pitch-framing. Unfortunately, his offense dropped precipitously in 2013 and 2014, roughly cutting his value by half. Over that most recent two-year span he hit just .237/.324/.358 for a 92 DRC+. His .302 wOBA was 56 points lower than his great two-year run from 2011-2012. As a catcher going into his age-31 season, there was little hope that he would return to vintage form offensively.

All that being said, Montero could still be a starting catcher thanks to his pitch framing for at least two to three more years, which is better than the Cubs could expect from their incumbent catcher, Welington Castillo. At best, he could provide slightly better offense than Montero, and he was a few years younger, but unlike with Montero, his pitch-framing was atrocious. As a result, he had been worth only 0.6 WARP over the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Upgrading Castillo to Montero was a no-brainer for the price the Cubs paid in talent. They did have to take on the three years and $40 million left on his contract, but who cares? It’s just money, and the Ricketts have plenty of it. This is a move you make when you value winning over money.

Conversely, the Diamondbacks should have offered to eat the money in return for better talent. Mejía and Godley projected as just back end starters, though neither had a high probability of reaching the majors. Neither of these two players ranked in the Dbacks’ top ten prospects that winter. This move also left the the team with a hole at catcher, so one would have thought that the Cubs would have included Castillo in the trade, but they did not.

Stewart was not off to a good start in terms of his process. He got lucky with the results of the Gregorius trade, but as you will soon see, things did not turn out so well with this trade. The Cubs got what looked to be a two to three-win upgrade at catcher for a great price.

The Results

Montero actually did bounce back offensively in 2015, hitting .248/.345/.409 and walking 12.2 percent of the time. His 4.1 WARP in just 113 games helped the Cubs win 97 games, resulting in them making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, where they were swept in the NLCS by the Mets. Fun fact: he caught Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter that year!

In 2016, Montero’s offense regressed to his 2013-2014 levels, and he started losing playing time to David Ross and Willson Contreras. He still succeeded in delivering 1.9 WARP in 86 games to help the Cubs win the division for the first time since 2008, and the World Series for the first time in a millennium. The postseason was not kind to Montero, but one of his two hits was a doozy. He hit a pinch-hit grand slam to break a tie in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS!

Despite being off to a good start in 2017 with a line of .286/.366/.439 in 44 games, the Cubs decided to designate him for assignment after a game in late June when he publicly blamed Arrieta for allowing seven stolen bases in seven chances in one game, in an attempt to absolve himself of any responsibility. He ended up with the Blue Jays for just 32 games, but he was a cipher at the plate.

Montero headed into free agency as a catcher going into his age-34 season and coming off his worst campaign offensively in 10 years. The best he could do was a minor league contract with the Nationals. He did not even last through April before he was DFAed, which led to him retiring at the end of the year.

Mejía has yet to make the major leagues. In fact, he has not even made it to Double A. The Diamondbacks traded him to the A’s at the 2017 trade deadline where he has been through the 2019 season. He elected free agency after the season, and he has yet to find a new team in affiliated ball. Considering he has a career 6.05 RA9 in the minors, I don’t like his chances.

Godley had a much better outcome, though that is not saying much. He debuted in 2015, and has had a very odd career. He has been a sub-replacement level player every year except for 2017, where he was worth 4.3 WAR. He had a 3.54 RA9 in a season sandwiched between ones with a 6.51 RA9 and 5.20 RA9. The 2017 season was also the only one where he had solid overall peripherals. Usually he suffered from poor strikeout and/or walk rates.

The Diamondbacks finally had enough of Godley last season. They DFAed him in early August as a result of his 6.51 RA9, most of which was in relief. He landed with the Blue Jays and made six appearances, and though he had a solid 3.94 RA9, he still had poor peripherals. The Jays cut him that September. He is currently on a minor league contract with the Tigers.

Cubs Results

Remaining Control WARP
Remaining Control WARP
Miguel Montero 3 6.4
B-Ref WAR does not incorporate pitch-framing, so I went with Baseball Prospectus WARP instead.

The Cubs did well here! Even though Montero did not finish out his contract with the Cubs, this was a productive return given what the team paid in the trade.

Diamondbacks Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Jeferson Mejía 6 0
Zack Godley 6 2.2
Total 12 2.2
Baseball Reference

Not good. These results likely would not surprise any scouts or prospect analysts who knew these two well at the time of the trade. The Dbacks would have been better off eating Montero’s contract for a better return.

Unlike with Stewart’s first trade, the results matched the process here. Not terribly shocking that future Hall of Famer Theo Epstein got the better of him. Sure they saved money, but as I continue to say over and over again, talent is a much more precious resource in today’s game than money.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.