In his first public words following the trade of Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini for a mid-rotation starter and four very young prospects, Jed Hoyer insisted that the Cubs are merely undergoing a “small reset.” They still plan to compete in 2021, he said, a task make quite a bit easier by the NL Central’s collective race to the bottom. Hoyer also said reports of Willson Contreras being shopped were false, though his comments about the team’s core players as a group may have contradicted him.
“We have not been able to extend a lot of these players to extend that window,” Hoyer explained. “That’s a fact. So with that, we know that we’re coming to the end of this group of players. A wildly successful, franchise-changing run with this group of players – we’re coming to the end…
“There are contractual realities to this core group, the fact that we haven’t been able to get these guys to sign extensions that we thought were the right value. I think we’d be foolish not to keep that in mind as we go forward.”
Gee, that sounds an awful lot like the Cubs are indeed very open to trading some of those players in order to recoup some value prior to or during a season in which they’re clearly not going all-out. Because he’s still got two years of control, is still earning a very reasonable salary, and is emerging as an excellent defensive force in addition to elite offensive production for his position, Contreras is by far the most marketable option when it comes to trades.
You might point to the fact that such a move would leave the Cubs without either of their two main catchers from the past two seasons, but Hoyer isn’t exactly worried about creating safety nets at this point. He did say they’d be seeking a veteran catcher to replace Caratini, though it’s entirely possible that a new edition could make like Bobby Brown and have the stage to himself.
Patrick Mooney reported in The Athletic that the Cubs have shown interest in Jason Castro, a longtime member of the Astros who also played with the Twins, Angels, and Padres. Though he’s not exactly been the driving force of those clubs, the fact that three of them made the playoffs at some point during his respective tenures doesn’t escape notice.
Mooney goes on to say that, while the Cubs may not be “extensively shopping” Contreras, they could market him to teams that miss out on J.T. Realmuto, contenders looking for an impact player to push them to the next level. There are but a handful of “transaction-oriented” organizations, as Hoyer said, and those in the market for one of free agency’s gems would surely be interested in a nice consolation prize. And considering Realmuto is expected to earn as much as $25 million annually, Contreras’s relatively low cost alone might be worth a cache of prospects.
Would it be a massive step down at the plate to go from a combination of Contreras and Caratini to Castro? Hell to the yes, it would be. Castro certainly won’t dictate the action at the plate and his inability to hit lefties combined with some big swing-and-miss make him an ill fit for the Cubs’ lineup in particular. But we’re talking about a team that just swapped Darvish for Zach Davies and still haven’t acquired any pitching depth.
The flip side is that Castro is a solid defender who has ranked inside or near the top 30 in catcher defensive adjustment over the last several years. He’s essentially your traditional glove-first catcher, a guy who you’d normally want as a backup and who could be pressed into extended action if need be. And who knows, maybe the Cubs would even add another vet in the event that Contreras is moved.
Or maybe they end up keeping Contreras, though being comfortable with half measures doesn’t seem like a viable strategy for Hoyer at this point.