Though there’s still a great deal to be done before spring training, the offseason seems to be flowing a little more freely than we’ve seen over the past few years. That’s certainly true when it comes to catchers, with Yasmani Grandal agreeing to join the White Sox for $73 million and setting the market for both free agency and trades. Travis d’Arnaud got $16 from the Braves shortly thereafter and the Brewers recently completed a deal with the Mariners to acquire Omar Narváez as Grandal’s replacement.
That has only served to increase the value of Willson Contreras, who’s been the subject of multiple reports regarding the Cubs’ willingness to part with him in a trade. Talk of his availability actually dates back to last year, when it was rumored that he could have been involved in a deal for J.T. Realmuto that obviously never came to fruition. Jeff Passan of ESPN has written more than once about Contreras a potential trade chip, and a new report from Patrick Mooney ($) of The Athletic seems to back that up.
One of Mooney’s sources predicted that the Cubs “will position Contreras as an option for teams that didn’t win a bidding war” for Grandal, which fits with what we’d theorized earlier. The Brewers are obviously not one of those teams, what with their recent deal and division rivalry. We can similarly rule out the Reds, one of the top suitors for Grandal’s services. So who does that leave?
The Rays seem to be a good fit in terms of what they offer in return, but they’re also a team that has placed a heavy premium on framing and blocking. Even with the improvements Contreras made last season in that regard, he might be an incongruous fit with Tampa’s historical MO. Then again, the Rays might be looking to break from tradition in order to take another step forward.
Perhaps even more viable is a deal with the Astros, who another Mooney source says “went into this offseason with an interest” in Contreras. They are in the market for a big-time catcher, have previously employed bat-first backstops, and may be looking for an offensive boost now that the discovery of their illegal sign-stealing has them seeking new competitive edges. For what it’s worth, a Contreras-to-Houston move was part of an otherwise ill-conceived blockbuster proposal by ESPN’s Dave Schonfield.
Mooney further mentions the Rockies, Pirates, Reds and Rangers as teams in need of catching help, which leaves the Cardinals as the only NL Central team not mentioned. And since they’re going to keep Yadi Molina behind the plate until the pine tar holding him together finally turns to dust, they definitely aren’t in the market. Unless the Angels offer them Mike Trout, of course, in which case some of their fans would still turn it down. Anywho…
It’s obvious that Contreras would fetch quite a return and we’ve already gone through the rationale behind the Cubs’ potential willingness to part with him, so let’s not bother delving into that again. One aspect of all this speculation that may be worth noting is that, while “manic” is probably too strong a descriptor, Theo Epstein could well feel pressure to swing for the fences with a move this winter.
The front office has been transparent about the fact that nothing is off the table and that one of the core players will almost certainly need to be dealt, though nothing is either imminent or necessary right now. That said, the speed at which the market appears to be developing could favor aggressive moves once the Winter Meetings roll around next week.
I’m still reasonably skeptical of a Contreras trade at this point, but I don’t believe the odds of it are as slim as many others want to believe.