If the Cubs are indeed going to part with one of their young core players, Willson Contreras stands as one of the most likely to be traded. According to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, which was subsequently confirmed by Jesse Rogers, “Multiple teams in search of catching help believe Willson Contreras will be available this winter.”
Multiple teams in search of catching help believe Cubs catcher Willson Contreras will be available this winter. The Cubs will get creative this winter, and with a deep catching free agent market, they could trade Contreras and begin retooling under new manager David Ross.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 8, 2019
Outside of the cold slap of reality, there’s really nothing surprising about this given what we know about the Cubs’ strategy and how Contreras fits into it. There were rumors about them potentially moving him in a deal for J.T. Realmuto that obviously never came to fruition, and Theo Epstein has said numerous times that no one on the roster is untouchable.
Though Contreras will be on a very reasonable deal next season, with his arbitration salary projected at just $4.5 million, that could actually drive his trade market. Since another team would not have to assume a major financial obligation, the prospect/player return would be greater. He’s also got three years of control remaining, so that’s a huge value-driver as well.
From the Cubs’ perspective, and I know this may be something people don’t want to hear, moving Contreras now makes sense in terms of maximizing return. He’s still just 27 years old and is at his athletic peak, but he’s also nearing the end of a window there that could be shorter because of his position. And given how heavily relies on his athleticism to make up for what he lacks in experience and finesse behind the plate, it’s possible his skills as a backstop may erode more quickly.
There’s also the matter of Victor Caratini’s emergence last season, coupled with the inevitable ascension of Miguel Amaya. Caratini bats from both sides and showed more pop and discipline at the plate in an expanded backup role than he’d displayed in two previous campaigns. The pitchers have touted his work behind the plate, which may be one of those areas in which the Cubs feel they can improve their overall performance without spending extra money.
Rather than a sign that they’re trying to tear things down or take a step back, scenarios exist in which trading Contreras would help the Cubs to fill other holes. Of course, they’d have to make just about the perfect move and have everything play out the right way with the players they acquire, but it’s possible.
Now, understand that I’m not saying the Cubs should trade Contreras just because they can. What I am saying, however, is that he makes sense to move in terms of what they’ve said they’re looking to do as they retool the organization in order to escape the winner’s trap. Or maybe David Ross can continue the work he did with Contreras this past spring, some of which may have led to the catcher’s improved framing as the season wore on.
Regardless of how things end up, you can count on this being a recurring topic throughout the next few months. Well, unless Contreras is traded early.