Theo Epstein: Three catchers nearing reality

MESA, Ariz. -- No longer is it a far-fetched idea. The Chicago Cubs are "leaning" toward keeping three catchers on their roster to begin the regular season, according to President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein.

The Cubs have stated all along that it was possible Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo could break camp with the team but industry thinking had Castillo being traded before April. After all, none of the three catchers can play another position and Joe Maddon is managing in the National League for the first time where roster flexibility is more important than in the AL.

“Joe is the one pounding the table for three catchers,” Epstein said over the weekend. “He wants it more than anybody.”

The obvious advantage is in pinch-hitting or pinch-running for one of them late in the game. Normally that’s a last resort when a team employs two catchers. In Castillo’s case, if the Cubs are concerned about the opponent’s run game his arm could be used as a defensive replacement late in the game. He's had a fantastic spring in throwing out runners.

But those are silver linings to employing three catchers -- not reasons for doing so. When asked if this was really a serious option, Epstein didn’t back down.

“The quickest way to sabotage a season is to have one of your starting catchers go down and you have to call-up a minor league free agent or someone who’s not ready,” he said. “It sabotages the whole pitching staff.”

Maddon was vague over the weekend about his ideas for the 25-man Cubs roster but indicated a key component is figuring out which players he’ll pinch hit for during the course of a game. That helps determine the shape of the roster. For example, if he has a platoon at one position, say left field, then he has more flexibility. But if second base, third base and left field all feature one-dimensional-type players, that could change things.

Having said all that, we know the Cubs are willing to trade Castillo if they get the right offer.

“It would have to be a really good offer,” Epstein said.

So what looked like just rhetoric could actually be reality, though if a trade were to happen before the season it was always likely to be in the final days of camp. It’s possible the Cubs are simply trying to keep the catching market alive by continuing to say publicly they’ll carry three catchers but for a front office that’s been transparent about many of their moves Epstein is starting to sound convincing.

“We’re strongly leaning towards three catchers,” he said.