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A look back at the Mike Montgomery trade

Because most deals aren’t blockbusters.

Chicago Cubs v Baltimore Orioles
Mike Montgomery throws a gem against the Orioles
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The most important pitch of last year’s season wasn’t thrown by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta or Aroldis Chapman. It was thrown by Mike Montgomery, a late July acquisition that the Cubs got from the Mariners for everyone’s favorite trade target last year: Dan Vogelbach.

Like most of the trades that get done in a given year, it was overshadowed by bigger deals: Mark Melancon to the Nationals, Andrew Miller to the Indians, and Chapman to the Cubs. I’m not here to argue that the Montgomery acquisition was bigger than any of those deals, but I am here to suggest that maybe it was more important, or at least as important. So I thought it might be worth taking a look at Mike Montgomery, his journey, what the Cubs gave up to get him and what he might mean to this team.

When the BCB crew discusses the pitcher we call MiMo in game threads the following ideas are pretty dominant: Montgomery is a borderline starter, and a great bullpen arm, but he’s 27 years old and only in his third big-league season, so it stands to reason that he can hit his upside — back of the rotation starter. In fact, you get the impression that he’s thought of in the same mold as Trevor Cahill or the Clayton Richard Experiment.

It turns out MiMo has a lot more upside than either of those guys, but it doesn’t really surprise you that Theo & Co. knew that already, right?

He started in the Royals system and was drafted as the 36th pick in the first round in 2008. He was considered one of the top prospects for the Royals organization as recently as 2012. He was packaged in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays that sent Wade Davis (Oh, you know him and like him? Me too!) to the Royals. If you want some insight into why this guy is so consistently intriguing take a look at this reflection on MiMo by draysbay in 2012:

Of all the guys the Rays received in the trade, Montgomery is the most interesting. He is the wild card of the deal, the guy who most likely fizzles but has the potential to shine. Remember, it was only a year ago that Montgomery was rated a better prospect than Myers by Baseball America.

Montgomery had a sort of forgettable time in the minor league system for the Rays and we’ll all be forgiven for not remembering that this was a top tier prospect in 2011. For that matter, I’m not sure the Rays remembered that when they traded him to the Mariners for Erasmo Ramirez in 2015.

The Mariners gave Montgomery a shot and after a rocky 2015, he seemed to put together some quality stats. Basically, something crazy happened on the way to the bullpen. All of the sudden the guy who had been living with an ERA of 4.60 and a FIP to match at 4.67 found himself able to throw harder. He added two miles per hour to his pitches and the ERA went down to 2.52 with a FIP of 3.79.

Montgomery was brilliant for the Cubs out of the pen in the stretch run last year, culminating in throwing the final pitch of the World Series win. That wasn’t an accident, by the way. You don’t come up in the Royals system watching your old minor league friends win a ring without it leaving a mark. As Kansas City Sports reported last year:

For the last two seasons, Mike Montgomery watched nearly every pitch of the World Series. Maybe he would have done this anyway, he says. He’s always been a baseball junkie. But in this case, as he lounged on a couch and sat in front of the television, the viewing experience was deeply personal. He couldn’t take his eyes off the screen.

The Kansas City Royals were his first club, the organization that drafted him, nurtured him and offered him a career. As he watched during the last two Octobers, this strange feeling kept surfacing.

“I kind of felt the feeling of ‘What if?’” Montgomery says. “I could have been there. I should have been there — if I’d have done this differently or if I’d have just took this person’s advice.”

I really recommend reading the whole article — it gives you a sense of Montgomery’s competitive spirit. He’s fully aware he’s a first-round guy who was a top prospect until he wasn’t, who got another chance to fight his way back.

And so, quietly, almost exactly a year ago (July 20, 2016) the Cubs made a move. It wasn’t the Miller/Chapman move we were all expecting. It was one of those classic Theo moves we weren’t anticipating: Montgomery and Jordan Pries from the Mariners for folk hero Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn. Five days later, the Cubs acquired Chapman and we all sort of just sort of accepted MiMo as a part of this team.

Part of this team... I almost forgot the contract. Mike Montgomery is a part of the Cubs until 2022. He’s a former first-round pick who can give you a quality start and has already given the Cubs more than a few. He can also give you a long run out of the bullpen, or a save in Game 7 of the World Series.

Oh, and he already has more MLB home runs than one Dan Vogelbach.