Over the past year, the Cubs have sent a lot of good players on the verge of cutting their payrolls and starting a new rebuild. Yu darvish, Kris bryant, Antoine Rizzo, Javier Baez, Craig kimbrel and more. But one of the key elements of their recent competitive window remains. Despite occasional rumors that he was shopping, Willson Contreras is still a Cub. The backstop will be eligible for officiating for a third and final time this winter, a season in which the Cubs are unlikely to be competitive given their recent liquidation. This means that they would be wise to go down one of the two paths, either by extending it or by swapping it.
When choosing between the two paths, however, something that might tip the scales is the low harvest of recipient free agents this offseason. With such a low supply of receivers available, teams might have to look to the trades if they want to level up behind the plate. This could make Contreras a product of choice, given its strong track record. Over the past six seasons, Contreras has a 0.259 / 349 0.458 line, for a wRC + of 114, producing 12 wins over substitution, according to FanGraphs. Only five baseball catchers produced more fWAR during this period. (Yasmani Grandal, JT Realmuto, Buster posey Mike Zunino and Gary Sanchez.) Contreras was also remarkably consistent around this time, with his wRC + dropping between 101 and 126 each year, and his fWAR still between 0.7 and 2.7.
Financially speaking, it won’t cost too much. His salary in 2021 was $ 6.65 million. He’s going to get a raise on that through arbitrage, probably in the order of $ 10 million, which is about half of what Grandal, Realmuto, and Posey make per year on their current contracts.
As to who would be interested in acquiring it, it would of course have to be a team with a need behind the plate. But given that he only has one year of control, it would also have to be a winning club now. Let’s look at which teams might do the trick.
Cleveland: Roberto Perez can be controlled for 2022 with a club option worth $ 7 million. However, he is now two years away from his excellent 2019 season. Since then he has only played 76 games due to various injuries and reached .155 / .253 / .277 for a wRC + of 49. Austin Hurdles had 85 catcher starts this year and only hit .178 / .220 / .308 for a wRC + of 40. There is certainly room for improvement on this kind of production. The club also has maximum payroll flexibility. Once they have exercised their $ 11 million club option on José Ramírez, which will bring their total salary commitments in 2022 to… 11 million dollars. By bringing in Contreras with a few free agents and then having better health in the rotation, 2022 could see the club easily surpass their record of 80-82 this year.
Sailors: After surprising the baseball world with a 90-game winning campaign, the Mariners have apparently moved beyond rebuilding to compete. In 2021, they gave playing time to Luis Torrens, Tom murphy and Cal Raleigh, none of which ran away with work. Murphy had a terrific season in the shortened 2020 campaign, but couldn’t replicate it in 2021. He hit .202 / .304 / .350 this year, for a wRC + of 87 and 1.0 fWAR. Torrens was better with the bat but was mostly used as a designated hitter on the stretch. Raleigh has decent defensive numbers, but hit a paltry 0.180 / 0.223 / 0.309 for a wRC + of 47. Mariners president Jerry Dipoto recently talked about adding more offense for 2022 and has a reputation for happy trading. . Tackling Contreras could be one way to add a little more noise to Seattle’s lineup.
Red Sox: In 2021, Boston divided the capture tasks between Christian Vazquez and Kevin plaecki, which were both okay but not great. Vazquez reached .258 / .308 / .352, wRC + of 77. Plawecki’s line was .287 / .308 / .389, wRC + of 102. They each produced 0.5 fWAR. The two still have a year in control of the squad, as Plawecki enters his final year of officiating as the Red Sox have a $ 7 million club option on Vazquez. Contreras would be an upgrade for the 2022 season and could help close the gap with young receivers like Connor wong and Ronaldo Hernandez.
Rocky mountains: The Rockies gave most of their 2021 catching debut to Elias Diaz, who had a sudden power outage. Prior to this year, he had 15 home runs in 273 career games. In 2021, he had 18 dingers in 106 games. Despite this surge, he still only got a wRC + of 92, in part because of his home games at Coors. (wRC + checks for approximate factors.) Dom Nunez was Diaz’s main replacement, and he put together a .189 / .293 / .399 line, making a wRC + of just 69. Contreras could easily give this tandem a boost, if the club thinks that he’s in victory -now mode, which they apparently do.
Yankees: It’s become an annual tradition for people to debate whether the Yankees will stick with Gary Sanchez. His formidable early years seemed too enticing to give up, even though he has struggled more recently. In 2021, he was proficient enough, hitting .204 / .307 / .423, producing a wRC + of 99 and 1.5 fWAR. Like Contreras, he is entering his final season of officiating and will receive a salary increase of $ 6.35 million. Could the Yankees be ready to trade him for a receiver with a similar payout but more consistent production?