Chicago Cubs Rumors: A.J. Ellis could be the answer to backup catcher question
By Jake Misener
Instead of another big-name starting pitcher, the Chicago Cubs may be focusing on bringing a quality veteran backstop into the mix for the stretch run.
Since the addition of Jose Quintana last week, the Chicago Cubs seem to be putting it all together. In the second half, the club owns a 9-2 record – and are yet to lose a series. With John Lackey showing some signs of life and Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, a deal for Justin Verlander appears less likely by the day.
So, where will the team shift its focus ahead of next week’s trade deadline? According to a Chicago Sun-Times report, the Cubs are eyeing a backup catcher and possible bullpen help.
The biggest names we’ve heard – Alex Avila and Jonathan Lucroy – are not considered strong fits, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer. Instead, he drops a new name into the mix in former Dodgers and current Marlins catcher A.J. Ellis.
The 36-year-old is on a one-year, $2.5 million deal with Miami. He made postseason appearances with Los Angeles annually from 2013 to 2015, giving him valuable October experience. He’s not anything special with the bat, but that’s of little importance to Chicago. With Willson Contreras pounding the ball on a near-nightly basis, it’s more about team chemistry and handling the team’s pitching staff.
Ellis worked with some big names in Los Angeles, namely perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw. He served as the southpaw’s personal catcher for much of his time in California. But, as noted, he likely wouldn’t see much time starting given Contreras’ emergence in 2017.
Contreras the top dog in Chicago
The young Cubs catcher owns an impressive .273/.336/.498 slash-line this season after a slow start. Since the team designated Miguel Montero for assignment, Contreras has blossomed into a leader and a true offensive threat.
In the month of July, he boasts a 1.092 OPS with seven home runs and 18 runs batted in. His average jumped nearly 100 points from his June numbers to this month and he shows no signs of slowing up after hitting a three-run blast early in Tuesday’s win over the White Sox.
So given his breakout performance over the last month or so, Contreras is clearly the man for Chicago moving forward. Ellis would no doubt be delegated to a minuscule role on the North Side – but an important one nonetheless.
We saw what a poor attitude from a veteran backup could do with Montero; the biggest need on this team is a veteran who knows how to win and mentor. And there’s no reason to think Ellis isn’t – and cannot continue – to be that for the reigning World Series champions.
Next: Breaking down trade chances for Cubs' biggest pieces
Given he’s on a one-year deal and has playoff experience in a winning culture, A.J. Ellis has all the makings of being Theo Epstein’s latest under-the-radar moves that make a team better. The good news: we’ll know within a week if the two sides can come together on such a deal.