|The Red Sox’ almost catcher of the future||06.17.10 at 10:08 am ET|
Had things played out slightly differently, Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero might have been the one receiving pitches from Red Sox starter John Lackey on Thursday night.
After the 2008 season, the Red Sox were contemplating a catching transition. Jason Varitek was a free agent coming off a brutal offensive season in which he could not sustain his performance down the stretch. Kevin Cash was let go.
And so, with no catchers with big league experience under contract, the Sox explored the market. Montero was very much in play as a possibility to take over as the catcher in Boston.
Then 25, Montero appeared to be stuck behind Chris Snyder in Arizona. Arizona had signed Snyder, coming off a career-best season, to a three-year, $14.25 million deal in the offseason, leaving Montero – a player with an excellent minor league track record, but little big league experience – as a very talented backup.
The Sox and Diamondbacks, according to multiple sources, engaged in several discussions involving the catcher. Montero, playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, could not help but catch wind of the talks.
“Oh, yeah. I heard the rumors. I was really shocked. I didn’t know what to think. I was playing winter ball. I didn’t even want to think about it. I try not to think about it, [but] I heard every day about it in spring training,” said Montero. “It’s tough for us to go out and play while saying, ‘I could get traded today or tomorrow.’ Just keep playing, do my thing.”
According to multiple sources, the conversations between the clubs focused on having one of two pitchers head to Arizona. In exchange for Montero, the two sides discussed sending either Michael Bowden or Daniel Bard back to Arizona.
At different times, according to one source, the sides seemed to alternate in their desire to get a deal done. In the end, one source familiar with the negotiations suggested that the discussions never progressed to the point where a deal was imminent, as the two teams went back and forth on the relative value of those two pitchers. Still, the Sox were active in looking at Montero, scouting him in Venezuela that winter to see if he was the right fit to succeed Varitek in Boston.
In the end, no deal was struck. The Sox re-signed Varitek, and Montero remained with Arizona. The chaos of wondering about his future behind him, the Arizona catcher could instead take the Sox’ interest as a source of confidence that, even though he had been a backup to that point in his big league career, someone had faith in his abilities.
“I always take it as a compliment, letting me know other teams are interested in me. It’s a good feeling, like, ‘You like me? That must mean I’m decent,’” Montero reflected. “[But] it was something I couldn’t control. Fortunately, I’m still here with the Diamondbacks. It’s good.”
While Montero initially was without an apparent role, that changed quickly. Snyder suffered an array of injuries during the 2010 season, and by the end of May, Montero had assumed the role as Arizona’s primary catcher. He flourished in that capacity.
Since the start of the 2009 season, Montero has profiled as one of the top hitting catchers in the game. He is hitting .301 with a .362 OBP, .481 slugging mark and .843 OPS, a line that is virtually identical (albeit in notably less playing time) to that of Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez (.301, .372, .483, .855).
“Obviously, it was a big change,” said Montero. “Unfortunately, [Snyder] was injured all year. At the same time, it was the first chance for me to play everyday and prove myself, that I can play.”
Montero has missed most of this season after landing on the disabled list with a torn meniscus in the season’s first week. But when on the field, he has been impressive, hitting .417 with a 1.023 OPS in eight games.
His return from the DL came just in time for the series in Boston. But during the series at Fenway Park, he has spent little time contemplating what might have been.
“It’s great. It’s a good place to play,” said Montero. “[But] I like baseball, anywhere I play. I’ll play in Boston, Arizona or in my house. Anywhere, I’ll just play.”
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