Cubs find all-star answer at catcher

By Josh Boyd
November 13, 2002

In the first trade to come out of the general managers meetings in Tucson, the Diamondbacks sent 2002 all-star catcher Damian Miller to the Cubs for minor leaguers Gary Johnson and David Noyce.

Miller, 33, has been with the Diamondbacks since they selected him from the Twins in the 1997 expansion draft. He hit a career-low .249 with 22 doubles, 11 home runs and 42 RBIs this year. He made the National League all-star team more for his defensive skills than for his bat, and having Arizona manager Bob Brenly making the selections also helped his cause. Miller led the NL in both throwing out basestealers (36 percent) and fielding percentage (.997). He’s a career .269-50-207 hitter in 492 big league games.

The primary motivation for Arizona to trade Miller was that he’s arbitration-eligible and could receive a salary as high as $4 million. He’ll replace disappointing Todd Hundley with the Cubs, while the Diamondbacks will turn over their catching duties to the tandem of Chad Moeller and Rod Barajas. Both players received by Arizona are physical specimens but are more journeymen than prospects.

Johnson, 26, has spent the past two seasons at Double-A West Tenn. Drafted out of Nevada in the ninth round in 1997, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound outfielder hit .257-6-45 with 15 doubles in 121 games. He hasn’t shown the type of power expected from a corner outfielder while compiling a .258 career average. His defensive skills have outshone his offensive performance to this point.

Like Johnson, the 25-year-old Noyce has spent the last two years in the Southern League. A 6-foot-5, 220-pound lefty, Noyce has worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen since 2001. He went 3-2, 2.72 in 53 appearances for West Tenn, allowing opponents to hit .239 (.273 by lefties) while registering 55 strikeouts in 76 innings. Despite his stature, he’s not overpowering. A 12th-round pick by the Marlins out of Furman in 1998, he joined the Cubs in a 2000 trade for Henry Rodriguez.

March 13 update: Noyce was diagnosed with a torn labrum in February and is expected to miss the entire 2003 season. Though they were under no obligation to do so, the Cubs sent lefthander Mark Freed to the Diamondbacks, who also will keep Noyce. Freed, 24 and a ninth-round pick out of Mississippi State in 2000, is a finesse pitcher. He led the short-season Northwest League with nine victories in his 2000 pro debut but struggled last year at West Tenn. He went 9-11, 5.16 in 29 games (24 starts), as opponents hit .306 against him.