Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, dealing with a sprained left thumb, will begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee on Sunday, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reports. Montero has been out of action since July 11 with the thumb injury, but could make a return in mid-August.
Montero’s impending return has led to the inevitable question about rookie catcher Kyle Schwarber: what will the Cubs do with him? Maddon said that Schwarber will remain in the big leagues once Montero returns, per Rogers. Schwarber, the Cubs’ first-round pick (fourth overall) in last year’s draft, has burst onto the scene with a .323/.405/.523 triple-slash line with three home runs and 12 RBI. He was initially called up to serve as a DH in back-to-back interleague series, but has handled catching duties with David Ross in Montero’s absence.
Montero, 32, has hit .230/.337/.392 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI this season. Ross has hit .184/.298/.286 and might be the odd man out if the Cubs don’t want to fit three catchers on their roster.
Rafael Soriano’s struggles put the Cubs back in the market for veteran bullpen help and Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that they’ve acquired Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter in exchange for infielder/outfielder Junior Lake.
After years as an inconsistent mid-rotation starter Hunter moved to the bullpen full time in 2013 and found success, adding several miles per hour to his now mid-90s fastball and posting a 3.05 ERA and 145/37 K/BB ratio in 192 innings for the Orioles. That includes a 3.63 ERA and 32/11 K/BB ratio in 45 innings this season.
Lake has struggled in 193 games for the Cubs since debuting in 2013, hitting .241 with 16 homers, a .663 OPS, and a hideous 198/31 K/BB ratio. His numbers in the minors are a lot better and Lake has experience at every position except catcher defensively, so if nothing else the 25-year-old could develop into a useful bench player.
Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reports that the Cubs are “aggressively trying to include Starlin Castro in any deal.”
Castro was on the bench Wednesday and Cubs manager Joe Maddon assured the shortstop that it wasn’t because he’d be traded, but of course Maddon isn’t really in position to make those assurances and Chicago’s front office would apparently like to unload the 25-year-old’s long-term contract.
Castro is owed $38 million from 2016-2019, which certainly isn’t a ton of money for a three-time All-Star shortstop, but his underwhelming performance in two of the past three seasons has the Cubs thinking they’d be better off with Addison Russell sliding over to shortstop and another young player–perhaps Javier Baez, who’s currently at Triple-A–taking over as the second baseman.
When healthy and playing well Castro has shown the ability to post batting averages in the .300 range, but the development of his power, plate discipline, and defense have all been underwhelming and it may be time for a change of scenery at age 25. This season he’s hit just .237 with five homers and a .576 OPS in 97 games while posting an ugly 69/16 K/BB ratio and grounding into 15 double plays.