Mike Montgomery: Starter or Back-End Reliever?
Like most Cubs fans, I have probably watched the final out of the World Series over 100 times. The circumstances are what made the out even sweeter (if that was even possible). The Cubs rental, stud reliever had blown the lead, then held the lead, and the Cubs needed someone to come in and close the door. Carl Edwards had an opportunity to earn the save, but he couldn’t quite shut the door. Mike Montgomery was brought in to face a switch-hitter. And….. Well…… You know the rest.
Montgomery filled many roles after he was traded to the Cubs. To be honest, my expectations were pretty low mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. After his first outing in Milwaukee, I was wondering why the front office even made a move to get him. As his time with the Cubs progressed, I began to like him more and more. He became a “jack-of-all-trades” for the Cubs pitching staff, and Joe Maddon took advantage of his versatility. Maddon used him as a long-reliever, middle-reliever, left-on-left reliever, setup man, closer, and starter. There aren’t many pitchers that could be used that way in one season. I would look for Joe Maddon to attempt to use him as either a starter or reliever and stick with that for the entire season. A lot of what Maddon decides will depend on whether or not the Cubs make a trade for a starting pitcher.
So, if it were up to me, what would Montgomery’s role be for the 2017 Cubs? Personally, I believe that Montgomery is more effective in a relief role. He proved that he can be a fairly reliable starting pitcher, but he also proved that he can be a major piece at the back-end of a bullpen. If it were up to me, I would make a trade for a young, controllable starting pitcher (like Chris Archer), and only use Montgomery in a relief role. I believe that he is someone that can be used in a setup role, or in high-leverage, left-on-left situations. One of Montgomery’s assets that makes him such a solid starter and reliever is that he is able to get outs against good right handed batters. I could see him being used in sort of a platoon-type role with Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop in the 7th/8th innings. Montgomery has also proved that he isn’t fazed by big moments. During the playoffs, Joe Maddon got in a habit of using a limited number of relief pitchers because of trust level. Montgomery was one of those pitchers and he proved to be very valuable when it mattered most.
Luckily for the Cubs, I am not in the front office. If I was, however, these are some of the moves that I would consider making to improve the Cubs pitching staff/bullpen depth. One thing that is constantly preached by the Cubs front office is depth and versatility. It is one of the reasons the Cubs were so good in 2016; they had a bunch of guys that could play a bunch of different positions. With pitchers like Montgomery that can pitch at different points in the game, the Cubs are diversifying their bullpen in the same way.