Even though Jed Hoyer called reports of the Cubs shopping Willson Contreras “fictional,” the persistent mention of trade talks from several different outlets makes the notion very hard to ignore. The latest of these comes from Ken Rosenthal, who wrote Wednesday that “the Angels are showing interest in trading for the catcher.”
While Rosenthal added that no deal is close, he pointed out that incumbent catcher Max Stassi might miss time due to hip surgery. That alone casts doubt on his ability to handle a full workload, and that’s before you consider that he’s never played more than 88 games in a season before. Stassi, who will turn 30 in March, is a defense-first catcher whose breakout in a shortened season probably isn’t being trusted as a predictor of future production.
Beyond that, Contreras is very familiar to an Angels coaching staff led by Joe Maddon and featuring three former Cubs coaches. One of those, Tim Buss, was the Cubs’ strength and conditioning coordinator when Contreras admitted that he’d stopped doing his in-season workouts during a disastrous second-half slump in 2018. Angels hitting coach John Mallee was part of the Cubs’ carousel at that role and third base coach Bryan Butterfield had a brief tenure in Chicago as well.
Trading Contreras would fly directly in the face of Hoyer’s assertion that the Cubs expect to contend in ’21, but it fits perfectly with the admission that the time of this current core is “coming to an end.” Between his elite performance, two years of control, and relatively low cost, Contreras clearly has the greatest value of anyone on the roster. He also turns 29 in May and the Cubs could see top prospect Miguel Amaya as a more attractive option than extending Contreras beyond his age-30 season.
That would mean rolling with a significantly downgraded catching core after already trading Victor Caratini, but it’s pretty obvious at this point that the coming season isn’t a priority on the North Side. The Cubs reportedly have interest in veteran Jason Castro, who could serve as a stopgap in some sort of timeshare with the versatile P.J. Higgins or another low-cost vet.
I’ve been saying for over a year now that I thought Contreras was the most likely to be traded, so none of this really comes as a surprise. If the Cubs were able to “pry loose” outfielder Jordyn Adams (Angels’ No. 3 prospect), middle infielder Jeremiah Jackson (No. 4), or shortstop Kyren Paris (No. 5) as part of the deal, well, that might set them up well for the future. Adams and Jackson are expected to be ready by 2022, which could help push the new window of contention open a little sooner.
It’d be really nice if lefty Reid Detmers, who’s also projected for a ’22 debut, was the centerpiece of a deal.
As much as it sucks to think about the Cubs spinning off their top players, the fact of the matter is that Hoyer isn’t in a position to win with half-measures. Like it or not, the Cubs have chosen to slash payroll for at least this coming season. With so many players approaching the end of their rookie deals and the admission that very few of them can or will be retained, big changes are inevitable.
But after taking a discounted return on the Yu Darvish deal, Hoyer’s next move is going to have to be about more than just saving money. If Contreras truly is on the block, the Cubs can’t afford to screw it up.