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Arizona Diamondbacks All Decade Team: Catcher, Miguel Montero

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National League Wild Card Game - Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Back in 2002, a raw 18-year-old catcher from Caracas in Venezuela made his debut as an international free-agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The teenager received a signing bonus of just thirteen thousand dollars. But Miguel Montero would go on to become a two-time All-Star, receive MVP mentions, and play more seasons with the D-backs than anyone else in franchise history. Now, Miggy is also the first player to be named to our Arizona Diamondbacks Team of the Decade.

By the time the 2010s rolled around, Montero was already well-established. He had debuted as a September call-up in 2006, and was named one of the top 100 prospects the following season, by both Baseball Prospectus (#76) and Baseball America (#63). He took over from Chris Snyder as the D-backs’ primary catcher in 2009. However, the decade got off to a bumpy start, Montero hurting himself in just the fifth game of 2010. Running out a ground ball, he landed awkwardly while avoiding a tag. The resulting knee sprain involved a tear of the meniscus in his right knee and required surgery, but he did at least avoid ligament damage. Miguel ended up missing 58 games, but returned to full-time duty in mid-June.

82nd MLB All-Star Game
Montero shakes hands with the Giants’ Brian Wilson, at the end of the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2011 proved to be a breakout season for Montero, hitting .282 with 18 home-runs. He started 131 games behind the plate for the D-backs, and threw out a league-high 40% of base-stealers. It was a performance which led to Miggy being honored with selection to the National League All-Star roster, after Placido Polanco was unable to take part. According to manager Kirk Gibson, when Montero got the news, “I thought he was going to cry.” Montero got into the game, played at Chase Field, in the ninth inning, coming in to take the place (if not the position, obviously!) of team-mate Justin Upton. He didn’t get to hit, but was behind the dish as Brian Wilson closed out a 5-1 win for the NL.

Miguel started all five games against the Brewers that post-season, going 6-for-20, with a pair of RBI in Game 3. The following May, he got his big deal, signing a lengthy extension, covering five years and worth $50 million. He said, “I was pretty clear with my agents. I told them that I really want to sign here, I want to stay here. I never visualized myself playing for another team, to be honest. I feel like this is where I belong, so I was clear enough to tell them we’ve got to get something done with the Diamondbacks... I like to play happy. Everybody likes me here, I guess. I think here everybody knows the way I am. It’s something that I really thought about, my wife and I, so I was pretty sure I was going to stay here.”

However, when Miggy recalled negotations with Derrick Hall, the situation was different: “He called me and was like, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I want five years and $60 million.’ He said, ‘Ah, man, we’ve got four for $44 million.’ I was like, ‘I want 5 for 60.’ ‘Is that the number?’ I said, ‘That’s the number. Don’t call me again with five and 59 and a half because I’m not going to take it.’ ” Said Kevin Towers, GM at that time: “We did our due diligence, looking at who’s out there, what type of value we’d put on those guys compared with Miggy. To me, even if it was somewhat of an overpay situation it was well worthwhile just because of the importance of the position, the player and the intangibles that he brings.”

The first year, 2012, it worked out about as well as could have been hoped. Montero slightly improved offensively, his OPS+ going up from 121 to 123. His overall value remained high, ticking up from 4.4 to 4.5 bWAR. For the second season in a row, he appeared in the NL MVP results (albeit only on a single ballot each year). Over 2011-12, he had started more games as a catcher than anyone else in the majors, and Miggy’s 8.9 bWAR across the two seasons was fourth among all players at the position, trailing only Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters and Buster Posey. For comparison, the highest non-Montero production ever by an Arizona catcher is Welington Castillo’s 2.2 bWAR in 2016.

But the downside was coming. Miguel’s offensive numbers cratered, with an OPS of just .662 (OPS+ 83) in 2013. A lower back strain cost him a month, and at the end of the year we said there was “A case to be argued that Miguel Montero was the biggest single disappointment of the 2013 season.” Miggy himself, speaking in September admitted there were issues: “All of a sudden in late April I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at the plate. That lasted a month and a half.” He seemed intent on putting it behind him: “I’m not going to change anything. It happened. It’s baseball. Everybody has one or two of those years. I’ll just come back with a fresh mind and see what happens.”

85th MLB All Star Game
Montero with Paul Goldschmidt at the 2014 All-Star Game
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Initially, it seemed he was right. On June 15 the following season, he hit his tenth home-run and was batting .273 with an .811 OPS. Gibson said, “He simplified his swing. He’s got less moving parts. Last year he had a lot going, a lot of things that had to time up, and then I think he shortened everything up.” Montero even received his second All-Star selection, again as an injury replacement, after Molina couldn’t make it. This time, Miggy even got to the plate in the game at Target Field, flying out to center in the ninth inning. That foreshadowed a second-half slump. Over three months from the end of June, Montero batted .217 with only two homers and a .601 OPS.

As the team struggled to a 95-loss season in 2014, a catcher due to earn $40 million over the next three years began to look like an unnecessary luxury. The D-backs went cheap instead (eventually selecting Oscar Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft and signing Jordan Pacheco), and traded Montero to the Cubs on December 9 - the same day they officially signed Yasmany Tomas. The D-backs got two pitching prospects in return, Jeferson Mejia (traded on to the A’s in 2017 for Adam Rosales) and Zack Godley. Godley gave Arizona more bWAR than Montero did for the Cubs over the rest of his contract - and, of course, at considerably less cost.

Said then GM Dave Stewart, “To move Miggy was a difficult decision and was not one that we took lightly. You only have so many pieces, so many moves that you can do to get to where you want to.” [From the same article: “The Diamondbacks continue to say they view Peter O’Brien, the slugger acquired in the Martin Prado deal with the Yankees in July, as their catcher of the future.” Yeah. About that...] Initially, it was expected that Montero would split time in Chicago with Welington Castillo. But Castillo would end up in Arizona a few months later, after a brief stay in Seattle. Montero’s time in Chicago would have its highs and lows. He won a World Series ring there in 2016 (though we’ll probably remember more his Game 1 NLCS grand-slam against the Dodgers).

Arizona Diamondbacks v Cincinnati Reds
Montero with bestie, Trevor Bauer
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

But the following June. he was DFA’d, and eventually traded to Toronto, after blasting Jake Arrieta for failing to control the running game. That illustrates an odd aspect of Montero. He always seemed such a cheerful person in interviews, etc. But Arrieta wasn’t the only pitcher with whom Miggy crossed swords. We documented his views on Jose Valverde last week, but the most famous spat was with young pitcher Trevor Bauer. After Bauer was dealt to Cleveland, Montero told Arizona Sports, “When you get a guy like that and he thinks he’s got everything figured out, it’s just tough to commence and try to get on the same page with you... He never wanted to listen.” Bauer allegedly (he denied it) responded with a diss rap track, You Don’t Know Me, sadly now lost, and which reportedly included these lyrics.

“You can say what you want, even if hate’s all you got,
But you don’t know me (nope). You don’t know me (why not?).
All the speculation out there about my reputation,
it’s because you don’t lnow me (nope). You don’t know me (why not?).
You judge on appearance, you don’t judge me on my merits,
because you don’t know me (nope). You don’t know me (why not?).
You hide behind a mask to facilitate a task,
but you don’t know me (huh). You won’t know me.”

As Arizona fans, we did get to know Montero over the course of his time here, which included the most productive seasons ever by a Diamondbacks’ catcher. His nine seasons of appearances for the D-backs set a mark which will not be broken for at least four more years [the current leaders in the clubhouse are David Peralta, Nick Ahmed, Andrew Chafin and Jake Lamb, all on six]. He’s in the franchise top five all-time for games played (#3), hits (#4), RBI (#4), and doubles (#5). But perhaps we’ll remember Miggy most for that infectious smile, which lit up Chase Field for the best part of a decade.

20th Anniversary Celebration - Miguel Montero

The longest tenured D-back, Miguel Montero, was named to the #Dbacks 20th Anniversary Team thanks to your love for the charismatic catcher. It did not go unappreciated. He'll throw out the first pitch for Thursday's #DbacksTBT game celebrating the '11 team and he's set to appear in Saturday's Alumni Game before the big ceremony: dbacks.com/20

Posted by Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday, July 30, 2018