The Cubs have done very little in free agency thus far and don’t figure to be reeling in a top shortstop over the next few days, but it sounds like they’re zeroing in on a replacement for Willson Contreras. Following a report that they had discussed both Christian Vázquez and Omar Narváez internally comes word from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that the Cubs are “showing strong interest” in the former.
It could turn out to be an intriguing free agent swap of catchers this winter:
The Chicago #Cubs are showing strong interest in Houston #Astros free agent catcher Christian Vazquez; the Astros have engaged in early talks with Cubs free agent catcher Willson Contreras.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 1, 2022
This is right up there with getting a free ride when you’ve already paid or having 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife because, as Nightengale notes, it could mean the Astros and Cubs would be swapping catchers. Well, sort of. Vázquez was in more or less of a timeshare following the trade that brought him over from Boston, then saw less time than his counterpart during the postseason.
That brings up another interesting connection, almost like rain on your wedding day, as the other backstop in Houston was none other than former Cub Martín Maldonado. You may have forgotten his time in Chicago because it lasted only four games over the space of two weeks and featured nothing memorable. Acquired from KC in exchange for Mike Montgomery on July 15, 2019 to provide depth while Contreras was on the IL, Maldonado was then flipped to Houston for Tony Kemp 16 days later.
Contreras returning from the IL in late July was like a no-smoking sign on Maldonado’s cigarette break because the backup was unhappy by being relegated to third-string behind Victor Caratini. What’s funny about this whole thing is that Contreras may essentially become a backup to Maldonado if Houston has their way.
But let’s get back to the Cubs, who clearly wanted to do something different behind the plate and never really engaged Contreras in extension talks despite his big bat and fan following. Seeing how the piecemeal pitching staff responded to Yan Gomes as the everyday catcher down during another Contreras IL stint this past season may have solidified the front office’s beliefs.
Vázquez has been more or less a league-average hitter over the past few seasons, but he’s an excellent defender and game-caller who fits the Cubs’ needs to a tee. I imagine they’d be looking at a deal of 2-3 years in order to maintain some continuity as they wait to see if Miguel Amaya can stay healthy and progress to Chicago. This move seems like an obvious one for the Cubs to lock in quickly, though we’ve been wrong about that same thinking in regard to others.