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Mike Montgomery is an option for both the bullpen and the rotation

The veteran swingman’s path to make the Mets out of spring is probably through the bullpen, though.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s November 2, 2016, and Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland spills into extra innings. The Cubs take a two-run lead in the top half of the 10th, putting them in prime position to win the World Series. Having already expended their closer Aroldis Chapman, manager Joe Maddon goes with Carl Edwards Jr. in the bottom half to hold the lead and close out the series. But Edwards Jr. falters a bit and allows a run to score. With two outs and the tying run at first and the winning run at the plate for Cleveland, Maddon decides to give the ball to left-hander Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez in the most important at bat in either franchise’s history.

Montgomery had been acquired by the Cubs at the trade deadline in 2016. Just one year prior, he was an unimpressive rookie who looked like a bottom of the rotation pitcher on a bad Mariners team. Seattle moved him to the bullpen in 2016, and he excelled there, putting up a 2.47 ERA across 62 innings, with two starts thrown in. The Cubs brought him in to fortify their bullpen as they geared up for a World Series run, and now they needed him more than they ever thought they would.

The fate of the World Series hanging in the balance, Montgomery induces a slow ground ball to Kris Bryant, who flips it to first and clinches the Cubs’ first World Series victory in 108 years. Montgomery was the one who recorded the final out; the guy who got dog-piled on in one of the most seminal moments in the history of the sport.

Four years and some months later, Montgomery is now the recipient of a minor-league deal and a NRI from the Mets. The southpaw never turned into the relief ace it looked like he could be for parts of 2016, but he carved out a niche for himself as a swingman for the Cubs for a few years. Over the next two seasons, Montgomery made a combined 82 appearances, with 33 of those being starts, and posted a 3.68 ERA and 4.00 FIP across 254.2 innings pitched. He rarely saw high leverage situations—recording just three saves and one hold in that time—but often provided reliable, multi-inning relief and stepped in to the rotation for periods of time when he was needed to as well.

Then in 2019, Montgomery started the year out of the bullpen and pitched far worse than was common for him. He had a 5.67 ERA and a 6.21 FIP in 20 appearances without starting a single game, and was dealt to the Royals in July. His role in Kansas City was simply to eat some starts for a really bad team. He started 13 games there and pitched to a much more serviceable 4.54 ERA in 67.1 innings.

Montgomery was supposed to serve the same role on the 2020 Royals—eat innings and provide depth before some younger pitchers got called up—but a lat strain after just three appearances cost him the remainder of the brief season. He was then outrighted to the minors after the season and refused the assignment, rendering him a free agent.

Given the Mets’ depth in the rotation and lack of depth in the bullpen, Montgomery’s avenue to making the team this year appears to be through the bullpen. Roster Resource currently pegs him as the favorite to win the last job in the bullpen with Seth Lugo’s injury, which makes sense because Montgomery has the ability to pitch multiple innings, and his contract has an opt-out on March 27 if he’s not on the big league roster. Plus, the 31-year-old has been more effective as a reliever (3.01 ERA, .301 wOBA against) than as a starter (4.19 ERA, .325 wOBA against) in his career, so it makes much more sense to deploy him there. That said, he is not currently on the 40-man roster and would require the Mets to drop someone for him.

He should not be pitching too many innings for the 2021 Mets, but it’s very likely we see Montgomery at the MLB level at some point this year. He’s an interesting NRI considering he was still a useful and durable MLB piece before his lat injury last season. Look for him to soak up some innings in long relief and possibly make a few spot starts for the Mets this season. If he needs to do more than that, something has gone catastrophically wrong.