Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was one of the biggest trade candidates not to be moved at the summer trade deadline, but according to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Astros came close to completing a deal for the All-Star. Astros starter Jose Urquidy would’ve gone to Chicago in a straight one-for-one swap, which was agreed upon pending ownership approval. The Astros never got the green light from ownership, the deal collapsed, and the players remained with their respective teams.
The Astros were clearly in the market for a catcher at the deadline, and while they missed out on acquiring Contreras, they did turn around and acquire Christian Vazquez from the Red Sox. Vazquez and Contreras profile as very different catchers though, with Vazquez a defense-first player and Contreras posing more of a threat with the bat. There’s little consequence of course, as the Astros won their second World Series title last night but the proposed trade and the reasons it fell through sheds some interesting light on the front office workings of the Astros, particularly given the future of GM James Click is far from certain.
Contreras seemed almost certain to be traded at the deadline. He was, after all, a pending free agent who was hitting .252/.365/.453 with 14 home runs on July 31 for a Cubs team that was 41-60 at the time. While there were some concerns around his defense, his bat made up for that, and he seemed an ideal guy to split time between catcher and designated hitter for a team looking for an offensive boost. Given the Astros already had Martin Maldonado entrenched as their regular catcher, that sort of role may have been exactly what the Astros were looking for from Contreras.
The cost for Houston would have been Urquidy, a mid-rotation starter who still had three years of club control remaining (after the 2022 season). Urquidy, signed out of Mexico as an international free agent in 2015, wound up tossing 164 1/3 innings of 3.94 ERA ball this year for Houston. Urquidy strikes out around 20% of batters, while walking them just 5% of the time. He is a bit prone to the home run ball, and gave up just over one per start in 2022. On the whole though, Urquidy was a dependable starter who had a big fan in manager Dusty Baker.
“Much as I like Willson Contreras, Urquidy was one of our best pitchers then,” Baker told Passan. “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.”
It appears that owner Jim Crane thought the same, and did not give Click approval to go through with the trade. Given both Click and Baker are now off-contract, it’s an interesting insight into the inner workings of the Astros as they prepare to make some key decisions on the future of the franchise following their championship.
As it turned out, the trade didn’t go through, Contreras played out a strong platform year with the Cubs and the Astros picked up Vazquez for minor leaguers Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez. The Cubs will surely tender Contreras a qualifying offer which he’ll likely reject, and instead hit the open market as the top free agent catcher available. Vazquez, too, will be a free agent, though may be not as sought after as Contreras. Urquidy will go through arbitration for the first time, and look to build off a solid season in the Astros’ rotation.