And in designating the 33-year-old Montero for assignment Wednesday, the Cubs believe they took a step toward protecting several young players in what they maintain is a stable clubhouse.
Montero was removed from the roster after the Nationals stole seven bases Tuesday night and he later blasted Arrieta and other pitchers for not holding baserunners closer.
“(There are) too many young guys in (the clubhouse) who are impressionable,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not like a group of veterans who can separate and dissect it properly (so) they can walk with what’s necessary and drop off what’s not.
“With this young impressionable group, to me, and a really good group that’s going to be together for a long time, you don’t want to foster, nurture, condone (Montero’s) kind of message.”
Epstein, in a conference call with beat writers, essentially made up his mind after learning Montero ranted for several minutes about “my pitchers don’t hold anyone on.”
General manager Jed Hoyer alerted Epstein of the comments and Epstein spoke separately with Maddon and Montero late Tuesday. After speaking with selected players, Epstein informed Montero of his removal Wednesday morning — even after Montero called Arrieta to apologize.
“I was frustrated,” Montero said. “Jake and I have come a long way. He said he understood. It was the heat of the moment. He was cool about it. I feel bad.”
Nevertheless, Montero said he had “to speak up” regarding the lack of help in preventing steals. “I’m responsible for my actions, but I’m not going to change.”
Arrieta said he didn’t do Montero “any favors” with his slow delivery and didn’t think his comments would have fractured the clubhouse, regardless of whether he stayed or not.
“There are certain things that are handled behind closed doors,” Arrieta said. “Miggy wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s one of the main reasons why we like him, but we’re going to move forward.”
The Cubs have 10 days to trade, waive or release Montero, 33, who was batting .286 with four home runs and eight RBIs but saw his playing time diminish gradually over the past 2 1/2 seasons. He’s making $14 million this season, the last year of his contract.
“Miggy is not to blame at all for the issues we have as a team right now,” Epstein said. “He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This is just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and supportive and further into the team concept, and we had to act on it.”
Epstein made a distinction between the decisions to acquire controversial closer Aroldis Chapman and reinstate infielder Tommy La Stella last season after he had left the team and the decision to cut Montero. The catcher had to go after publicly ripped a teammate.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who suggested on his weekly radio show on WMVP-AM 1000 that a veteran player like Montero needs to make “smarter decisions” and that his comments could get him labeled as a “selfish” player, stood by his comments.
“That’s what I had to say,” said Rizzo, who acknowledged that Montero had a lot of “very good moments” with the Cubs.
Maddon emphasized the need to keep the youngsters in a positive culture.
“When you’re a young player, and older players start making derogatory comments like that, and you’re sitting in your stool and thinking ‘What does that mean?’ How do I process that?'” Maddon said. “‘How did it impact me? Did I do something wrong?’ There’s not even a thought of how do I make that right or better. You can’t.”