Cubs Scorecard: Contreras is Good at Baseball and the League Knows It

Trade rumors are just that, rumors. Hard to take anything seriously, but sometimes you just know it is true. Willson Contreras has been the topic of trade talks since last summer, including the offseason, before the offseason, and very recently. Contreras is one of the last members standing from the 2016 Cubs World Series team, the fabulous Core that included Baez, Rizzo, Schwarber, and Bryant. Willson is a fan favorite, an ESPN Top Play favorite, a community favorite, a dugout favorite, a manager favorite (David Ross basically trained him as a catcher), and an MLB favorite.

How good is Contreras?

According to MLB.com, what does Contreras bring to the table compared to other catchers in the game?

·       Hitting .277, Contreras is fourth behind Alejandro Kirk who is first.

·       With 47 hits, second in number of hits behind Kirk.

·       Fourth in doubles, with 10.

·       First in home runs with 10.

·       Fourth in RBI’s with 23.

·       1st in on base percentage with .403.

·       1st in slugging with .530.

·       1st, in OPS with .933 which translates to a ridiculous 161 OPS+.

·       1st in At-Bats after spending 935 innings behind the plate in2021.

·       According to Fangraph, 1st in WAR.

·       And just to brag, third in stolen bases with 2.

Contreras will assuredly receive his third All-Star nod, and most probably will start. Sure, Kirk is having a good year, too, but Contreras could easily be considered the best catcher in the league right now. From a defensive perspective statistically, Contreras is usually in the middle of the pack, and sometimes lower. These stats are usually attributed to the fact that not many runners steal on Contreras, and nobody takes more risks in picking runners off.  Willson will throw the ball, fearlessly. anywhere and anytime. With a rocket arm, Contreras is typically viewed as the most athletic catcher in the league. But framing has been an issue and it is hard to ignore statistics.

When the Cubs ejected their Core last summer, fans gasped. From a purely financial perspective it turned out to be a good idea. Schwarber, Baez, Bryant, and Rizzo either garnered close to $100 million or well over $100 million in contracts.  Meanwhile, Bryant has been out most of 2022, Baez is batting .205 with an OPS+ of 61 (meaning 39 points below the MLB average), Schwarber is batting .194 albeit with 14 home runs, and Anthony Rizzo is having a decent year with a 130 OPS+, 14 home runs and 38 RBI’s (but a .213 batting average). Craig Kimbrel has been shaky with the Dodgers with a 4.00 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and only 11 saves.

What would Contreras cost to keep in the lineup?

Contreras is due for free agency next year. The Cubs can swan dive into a bidding war to keep Contreras or offer him an extension early. Assuming Contreras is an All-Star and continues to relatively play at this level, his competition makes the following:

·       JT Realmuto is 5 year, $115 million.

·       Will Smith and Alejandro Kirk are still on their rookie contracts like Contreras, earning around $730,000 per year.

·       Sanchez is under a 1-year deal worth $9 million.

·       Sean Murphy is 4-year and $7.37 million.

·       Salvador Perez is 4 year and $82 million.

·       Yasmani Grandal is 4 year, $73 million.

Though a little all over the board, it seems very likely that Contreras will get something in the neighborhood of $20 to $25 million a year – minimum. We are talking about contract values around $80 to $100 million for a top 5 catcher. Real money for a real player.

Is there a market for Contreras?

Hell, yes. Several contenders have underperforming catchers including:

·       The Yankees always like to do deals with the Cubs. They are currently platooning Kyle Higashioka (.406 OPS) and Jose Trevino (respectable .794 OPS).

·       The Rays are mainly using Mike Zunino with a .152 batting average and .513 OPS.

·       Yasmani Grandal is well liked by the White Sox but his .163 average and .487 OPS is tough to swallow.

·       Houston’s Martin Maldonado is batting .133 with a .450 OPS.

·       The Met’s Tomas Nido has a .589 OPS with 0 home runs.

·       The Padres Austin Nola is a .209 average with a .549 OPS.

Like last year’s trades, the Cubs could receive quite a bit of young talent or maybe even veteran talent for Contreras depending on the desperation of the trade partner. Based on the performance of recently promoted Cubs prospects like Matt Swarmer and Christopher Morel, the Cubs have an eye for the right talent prospects. But you need some superstars for the rebuild effort. Contreras could add a veteran voice in the clubhouse, offensive power, and at least highlight defensive plays from time to time.

Trading Contreras could net some new young talent, but what would the Cubs timeline be for a World Series run? With all the cash savings, would they really go on a spending spree to supplement the young talent? They didn’t do it this year when there was plenty on the market. So, when? It seems like Contreras would be worth the money to stay with the organization. You’ll wind up spending that kind of money on some veteran talent anyway.

Author

  • Larry Goldman

    Larry spends his nights and days watching, researching, and writing about sports in Chicago and the national conversation.

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