Cubs Reportedly Have Interest in JT Realmuto, Maybe Enough to Trade Willson Contreras

We’ve heard for a while now that the Cubs would eventually have to trade from their core of young position players in order to acquire pitching, but what if the long-awaited splashy move is for catching. Wait, they’ve already got Willson Contreras, so does that mean…? Yes, it does. I mean, it might, according to SiriusXM’s Craig Mish.

Now before you go brushing this off as so much nonsense, be aware that Mish is very plugged in when it comes to Marlins information. And this idea that the Cubs could have interest in moving Contreras for Realmuto (and perhaps more) was actually broached here at Cubs Insider a couple days ago. Regardless of how much veracity you’d apply to those reports individually, they gain credence when you consider they’re coming, presumably, from entirely different sources.

As Mish says, however, the Cubs’ level of interest in such a deal is unclear at this point. He also says the Cubs could move on from Contreras, which is the same language our Tom Loxas used when he wrote about the same topic. Not that “could” is an uncommon word, of course, just that it means only that the door is open. But how far?

My best guess is that it’s more than with Kris Bryant, who is as close as you can get to that untouchable category the Cubs don’t like to work with. It’s why Buster Olney reported that the Cubs were open to dealing Bryant, despite the fact that no logical scenario exists in which such a move makes sense. Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez are undoubtedly in that same tier, with Contreras just a skosh below.

So even after a disappointing 2018 in which he failed to live up to premature MVP hype by hitting .249/.339/.390 with 10 home runs, it would take a big haul for the Cubs to part with their 26-year-old backstop. Contreras is under extended club control and still possesses the potential to get back to the kind of offensive performance that raised those lofty expectations in the first place.

The conversation gets a little interesting once we get to those contractual aspects, since Contreras isn’t arbitration-eligible until next winter and Realmuto is projected $6.1 million in his second round of arbitration. And Contreras is under club control for four more seasons, while Realmuto — who slashed .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers — is only locked in for two.

It might seem strange for a club that is claiming a degree of financial hardship to bring on over $5 million in additional salary, but the Cubs could view this as an alternative to spending big in free agency. Thing is, would a swap of Contreras and Realmuto offer enough additional value to offset the extra payroll and reduced control? Maybe if the Marlins included some pitching to balance it out. Or if the Cubs believe Realmuto would coax significantly better production from the pitching staff.

There is, however, another big aspect of this hypothetical deal in which losing those two years of control actually make sense. Realmuto is only a year older than Contreras, so you’re looking at getting a peak performer in his theoretical athletic prime for the next two seasons either way. And that would coincide with the projected arrival of top catching prospect Miguel Amaya, who could be ready for the bigs by then.

On the other hand, the Cubs could hedge their bets by keeping Contreras and then bringing Amaya along a little more slowly if and when he is ready to be called up. For a team that’s supposed to be focused on performance over potential, it’d seem a little strange to bank on the development of a catcher who won’t turn 20 until March.

However you look at it, there are a few ways to view a potential swap of Contreras and Realmuto in which it’d make sense for the Cubs. Chief among those would be the potential to add to their pitching depth while bringing in a more consistent offensive and defensive performer behind the plate.

I don’t see this as something that has real legs, so for now we’ll chalk it up to the Cubs asking around and exhausting all their options. But even if nothing more comes of it, this report offers some insight into what lengths this front office is willing to go in an attempt change things up for 2019 on a limited budget.

Ed. note: Mish has a practice of putting odds on a player’s destination, something he’s done lately with Realmuto. It’s interesting to note that he’s got the Cubs at 5 percent to land Realmuto as of Friday evening, exactly the same as he had them back on November 19. Which is to say that he’s right there with us in terms of how unlikely it is that this comes to fruition.

And then there’s this:

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