Dec. 30: In a conference call to discuss the Darvish/Caratini trade, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer called any reports of the team shopping Contreras “fictional” (Twitter link via Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago). Hoyer, who stressed that the Darvish trade was “not financially motivated,” declined to label any player on his team untouchable and acknowledged that he has received repeated trade inquiries on Contreras, however.
Dec. 29: The Cubs made a couple of significant subtractions from their roster Monday when they agreed to trade right-handed ace Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres. Those two may not be the last noteworthy players the Cubs part with in a trade this winter, though, as they’re “extensively shopping” catcher Willson Contreras, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports.
The 28-year-old Contreras has been one of the preeminent backstops in the game since he debuted in 2016, so you would think the two-time All-Star would bring back a sizable return for the Cubs. Offensively, Contreras owns a lifetime .265/.351/.463 line (good for a 116 wRC+) and has hit 74 home runs in 1,889 plate appearances. As a defender, Contreras struggled with pitch framing earlier in his career, but he ranked in the league’s 85th percentile in that category last season, according to Statcast. He has also thrown out an above-average 32 percent of would-be base thieves in Chicago.
Adding to Contreras’ appeal in a potential trade, he has another two years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He’s projected to earn between $5MM and $7.4MM next season, but even the higher of those estimates should be intriguing to teams looking for a new starting catcher. That’s especially true when considering J.T. Realmuto, the No. 1 free-agent catcher available, figures to rake in a guarantee well north of $100MM on what’s likely to be a contract of at least five years. Speculatively, the Phillies, Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Yankees, Nationals and archrival Cardinals could be among the teams that at least kick the tires on a Contreras acquisition.
The Cubs don’t seem to have an immediate replacement for Contreras, who teamed with Caratini to form one of the majors’ most effective duos at catcher. Promising prospect Miguel Amaya is the only other backstop on their 40-man roster, though he hasn’t played above High-A ball yet. Of course, Chicago could get back a different catcher in a trade (be it as part of a Contreras swap or another deal) and/or add someone in free agency to help bridge the gap to Amaya.