The Astros have had preliminary discussions with Willson Contreras and are planning to connect with him at the Winter Meetings, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic. This comes a few months after the unconsummated trade that would have sent Contreras to Houston in exchange for righty starter José Urquidy, a move manager Dusty Baker encouraged owner Jim Crane to nix after GM James Click had set it up.
This is particularly interesting given Click’s departure from the organization following a power struggle with Crane’s ego and other advisors, specifically Astros legend Jeff Bagwell. It’s just incredible that the World Series champs would tell a top baseball exec to pound sand and then have the owner effectively run contract negotiations just a month after hoisting another trophy, yet here we are.
What’s funny about the whole situation is that a trade for Contreras seems like the kind of thing Bagwell and Crane would have preferred, particularly with the former being an outspoken anti-analytics wonk. But as Baker explained, his objection was more to the idea of potentially upsetting both the existing chemistry and their new acquisition with a suboptimal playing situation.
“Much as I like Willson Contreras, Urquidy was one of our best pitchers then,” Baker told reporters after the World Series. “I needed a guy that wasn’t going to complain about not playing every day. And this is his [free agent] year. See, that’s tough. When you trade for a player in his [free agent] year. Everybody’s about numbers and stuff, and I can’t blame them, no doubt. But that’s not what we needed.”
Several of those pertinent factors have now changed, however, making Contreras a much more viable target for the Astros. The biggest is that he’s a free agent, which means only giving up a draft pick and some international pool money rather than Urquidy. The Astros might also be able to give Contreras a little more time behind the plate in a time-share with Martín Maldonado, something they might not have been amenable to last season.
Contreras could also split time at DH and perhaps even in left field with the lefty-batting Yordan Alvarez, who had five defensive runs saved with a 19.7 UZR/150 over 467.2 innings in left this past season. The former Cub has played only 55.1 outfield innings since his rookie year in 2016, which saw him log 180.2 innings, but Rosenthal notes that Minute Maid Park has the second-smallest left field in MLB.
One potential roadblock here is that Contreras likely wants to be viewed, and paid, as a catcher rather than a DH or utility player. That’s something we examined earlier in the season when looking at whether the Cubs’ increased usage of Contreras in the DH spot might end up hurting his value. On the other hand, the Astros have already shown a willingness to outbid the market for a player they really want by giving José Abreu more time and money than just about everyone imagined.
I’m much more agnostic than most when it comes to the Astros, so I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other on Contreras signing with them. But if it means he doesn’t end up in St. Louis, I’m all for it. To that end, Crane should just offer Contreras more money than anyone else will offer and put a quick end to the nightmare scenario of him becoming a Cardinal.