Blue Jays see a worthwhile gamble in Montero

Sep 16, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero (63) watches his three-run homer against the Los Angeles Angels during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero (63) watches his three-run homer against the Los Angeles Angels during the fourth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Blue Jays have claimed Jesus Montero from the waiver wire, and may not have a lot of time to decide if he’s worth a longer look.

Yesterday news broke that the Blue Jays had claimed Jesus Montero off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. This type of move is frequent at this point in the spring, as teams are trimming rosters and deciding who is worth a spot on their respective 40-man rosters. The Mariners decided Montero was no longer worth protecting, ultimately giving up on the wayward trade they made with the New York Yankees back in January of 2012.

For those who don’t remember, it was a high-profile “prospect type” trade at the time, both teams gambling that they wouldn’t be giving up a future star for a dud. The Yankees received Michael Pineda, who had just come off a strong rookie season in Seattle and looked poised to be a top of the rotation starter in the near future. Montero was equally impressive with the bat as a young prospect, but hadn’t developed the defensive side of his game consistently enough to flourish in the majors (and he hasn’t yet).

For a while it looked like neither team would receive much value from the trade, to the surprise of many scouts. Montero continued to struggle with defensive issues while his weight and other problems started to come up in conversations around, “why isn’t this kid performing in the show yet?”. Meanwhile, Pineda was hurt before his Yankees tenure even began, needing Tommy John surgery and missing the 2012-13 seasons. Fast forward to last year, and Pineda has found a way to contribute, albeit not at the level once dreamed by Brian Cashman when he traded for him 4 years ago.

Montero on the other hand….. well, he’s likely welcoming a change of scenery. Nothing has gone right for the former top-5 MLB prospect since being traded to the Mariners organization. He has only had 243 plate appearances in the bigs from 2013-2015, has battled weight issues, and been heavily scrutinized by the media.

In August of 2014, while on a minor league rehab assignment, Montero found the low point of his career. During the game, one of the Mariners scouts got so frustrated watching Montero, who he perceived as out of shape and apathetic, that he started to heckle him from the stands. The scout took it one step further, sending an ice cream sandwich to the dugout, allegedly in order to taunt Montero, who had arrived at spring training that season roughly 40 pounds over his ideal playing weight. The incident ended with Montero having to be restrained from entering the stands, with a bat in tow. Things really couldn’t have looked a whole lot worse at that point.

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The Venezuelan did take some strides in the right direction in 2015, coming in to camp in the best shape of his career and determined to turn it around. After only seeing MLB game action six times in 2014, Montero did play in 38 games for the Mariners last season. He didn’t exactly light the world on fire, finishing with a slash line of .223/.250/.411, in 112 AB’s, but it was certainly a positive stride after the previous season’s disaster. He also hit 18 home runs, 18 doubles and posted a .966 OPS in AAA, so there was still reason for optimism, especially if you ignored his previous seasons.

So what are the Blue Jays getting in Montero? Still only 26, the Jays obviously felt that he’s worth a look for a few spring games before they make their final roster decisions. Montero is out of options, so the Blue Jays will have to include him on their opening day roster to protect him, or expose him back to waivers again with an assignment to AAA Buffalo. That said, the Blue Jays sit second to last on the AL waiver wire, so an unlikely claim by the Royals should be their only obstacle.

It’s likely that Montero’s days as a catcher are over, but he is still young enough to potentially work on that side of his game in the minors, if he and club decide to go that route. It may also be a case of the Jays looking to catch lightning in a bottle again, as they have a few times in the past decade with the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and others.

If nothing else, taking a look at him only cost the club A.J. Jimenez from the 40 man, which appeared to be an inevitability anyway. It’s unlikely he breaks camp with the team, but it’s entirely possible he could be some decent minor league depth for the club at some point in the 2016.