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Epstein's swift response to Montero on point

MLB.com @philgrogers

That didn't take long, did it? Reading comments from Miguel Montero after the Nationals' seven-stolen-base track meet on Tuesday night, it was clear there would be blowback from the Cubs.

But to eat a little more than $7 million and designate a 12-year veteran for assignment in favor of a second-year catcher, making an already incredibly young team even less experienced? That's hardcore. Yet opting for that route with Montero -- most likely to release him, as it's hard to imagine anyone claiming him or trading for him -- was also the exact right move by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

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That didn't take long, did it? Reading comments from Miguel Montero after the Nationals' seven-stolen-base track meet on Tuesday night, it was clear there would be blowback from the Cubs.

But to eat a little more than $7 million and designate a 12-year veteran for assignment in favor of a second-year catcher, making an already incredibly young team even less experienced? That's hardcore. Yet opting for that route with Montero -- most likely to release him, as it's hard to imagine anyone claiming him or trading for him -- was also the exact right move by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

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It underscores both Epstein's belief in the talent he's assembled and his commitment to having an unselfish cast of players in the clubhouse.

Montero crossed a line by calling out Jake Arrieta for being slow to the plate. He should have owned his responsibility for being 1-for-32 throwing out basestealers, even if it's true Arrieta is easier to run on than Jon Lester.

Video: Montero frustrated with runners stealing on him

Anthony Rizzo called out Montero on the radio Wednesday morning, saying on ESPN 1000 Radio, "When you point fingers, you're a selfish player. We have another catcher that throws everyone out.''

Willson Contreras has a 34-percent caught-stealing ratio (16-for-47) handling the same pitchers, including Arrieta. That's not Ivan Rodriguez in his prime, but it's better than league average.

Montero should have thought about that for a second before being so candid about his self-serving viewpoint. He also should have thought about whether he wants to be sitting at home in October or trying to win a second World Series behind Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and the rest of Team Theo.

Montero earned his 2016 ring, no question about it. His grand slam in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers was a huge moment from last postseason, and it turned out the Cubs needed the insurance run he provided with his 10th-inning single vs. the Indians that plated Rizzo in Game 7 of the World Series.

While Montero was initially acquired from the D-backs because of his pitch-framing skills, he hasn't inspired confidence with the rest of his game behind the plate in his three seasons with the Cubs. He should have had a little more self-awareness when processing the embarrassment he felt after the Nationals took advantage of him (and, yes, Arrieta).

Montero should have zipped it and ridden to the end this season. Instead, Epstein is playing the addition-by-subtraction card, with his fingers crossed that Contreras won't get hurt in his first full season.

Victor Caratini, the Cubs' No. 11 prospect who was called up to serve as the backup catcher, made a good impression in Spring Training and is hitting .343 with eight home runs for Triple-A Iowa. But Caratini, a 23-year-old switch-hitter acquired from the Braves in a deal for James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio at the Trade Deadline in 2014, will need a crash course in handling a staff that hasn't repeated its success of last year.

It's possible that Caratini will be like a second helping of Contreras, who outperformed expectations after being promoted last June. But he could turn out to be a placeholder until Epstein imports another veteran.

Bottom line here is the Cubs will figure out a way to get along without Montero. It's possible that Epstein's swift action will receive such a favorable reaction in the clubhouse that it jump-starts a team that has been spinning its wheels, with no one except perhaps setup man Carl Edwards Jr. improving on his performance from last season.

Epstein might have been less offended by Montero's comments if they were the first of their kind. But Montero also put himself above the team last November when he complained about his limited playing time in the World Series.

It also hasn't been forgotten that he made a costly mistake in the 2015 NLCS vs. the Mets, failing to block Trevor Cahill's third strike to Michael Conforto in Game 3 at Wrigley Field. The score had been 2-2, but Yoenis Cespedes scored the go-ahead run on the wild pitch and the Mets were on their way to a four-game sweep.

While it's unlikely anybody will help the Cubs pay what's left on Montero's $14 million salary this season, he also shouldn't be unemployed long. Somebody can always use a left-handed-hitting catcher, especially one with Montero's experience.

Here's hoping that any team that adds him has pitchers who are quick to home plate.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Chicago Cubs