With each passing day, the likelihood of an extension for Willson Contreras drops further, from “very low” to “very very low” to “very very very low” and so on. But even that feels like understating it. At this point, an extension is EXTREMELY unlikely, even if there is some small chance of Contreras playing for the Cubs again in 2023.
At The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma had the extension conversation one more time, in wake of the two sides coming to an arbitration agreement for 2022, but the big picture remains largely unchanged.
The arrival of a good backup catcher (like Yan Gomes) and the DH has proven that a more rested Willson Contreras is a much more productive Willson Contreras. He’s also demonstrated a knack for leadership within the clubhouse, most recently with respect to Christopher Morel.
However, Jed Hoyer appears to be even less sentimental than Theo Epstein, according to Sharma, so all the intangibles (even the potential “olive branch” to Cubs fans an extension would represent) are not weighing heavily in the decision. Moreover, there’s a concern about handing out big deals to catchers over 30, as even recently-lauded contracts for guys like JT Realmuto (97 wRC+ this season), Salvador Perez (86 wRC+), and Yasmani Grandal (61 wRC+) look a LOT worse today than they did when they signed.
Most importantly, it seems, Contreras has set himself up for a big payday and is just four months from free agency. So there’s a lot more risk for the Cubs (injury, ineffectiveness) in extending him *right now* when you could theoretically wait until the offseason. Obviously, we all know how rare those comeback deals have become, but this is where we are. An extension in June-July, at the peak of his performance, arguably doesn’t make much sense for either side.
So if they’re unlikely to extend Contreras, does that mean another core position player trade at the deadline? Yes. According to Sharma, that’s “extremely likely.”
Well, then … what’s the latest on the trade front?
Our last discussion revolved around six teams that could make sense for Contreras, based on the general numbers and chatter going on around the league: The Astros, Yankees, Padres, Giants, Mets, and Rays. And it seems like we can refine that list a bit today.
Let’s start with the Mets, who sound like a very plausible trade partner, according to Andy Martino:
We can tell you unequivocally that Billy Eppler and Co. are very open to adding an impactful bat, too. It’s too soon to sign off on “big push” as the appropriate phase for Contreras, but he does fit. This is pretty simple: The Mets have excellent, established players at nearly every position, but could improve at catcher.
When the Mets signed James McCann to a four-year contract before the 2021 season, they expected that he could become a backup by year three or four. Well, we’re halfway into year two, and when McCann returns from the injured list a pairing with Contreras would look awfully good.
So you can count the Mets among the teams with both a local and national mention of the possibility. And, of course, a “big push” for an established bat at their weakest position aligns well with everything else going on in the Mets world, including their over-the-top spending, the age of Max Scherzer, and the looming opt-out of Jacob deGrom. It’s not like it’s World Series or bust in New York, but they’re definitely in the “whatever it takes” party.
But with one suitor propped up, two others are (somewhat) knocked down.
At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal pushes back against prevailing wisdom, indicating that the Astros are “probably not at all” a fit for Contreras — despite the fact that the Astros catcher OPS is the second-lowest in MLB:
Astros players and coaches revere the defensive work of Martín Maldonado, who was the alternate catcher to Robinson Chirinos on their 2019 World Series club and the regular during their 2021 Series run. The front office is aware of the sentiment in the clubhouse and in agreement with it, making it unlikely the team would displace Maldonado, according to sources familiar with the team’s thinking.
And since the Astros already have a stud DH (Yordan Alvarez), there’s just not an obvious fit for Contreras in Houston at the moment. Now, could that change? Sure. If Maldonado keeps up his … 47 wRC+ through July, I don’t see how they can possibly avoid some sort of offensive upgrade. But they just might not be as obvious of a suitor as they initially appeared.
Potentially the same goes for the Yankees, whose catchers are providing only modest offensive performances, but are otherwise working *extremely* well with baseball’s top pitching staff. This is a version of the exact issue we discussed in Spring Training: in-season trades for starting catchers are just so difficult to pull off.
But like Martino, Rosenthal does believe the Mets and Padres could make sense and that the Rays are a potential landing spot, as well. But it’s the Giants that are the most likely suitors, in his estimation: “Contreras, 30, would make particular sense for the Giants, who recently demoted Joey Bart; Curt Casali has never played 90 games in a major-league season and the team already has plucked two catchers from other clubs’ Triple-A rosters.”
So I suppose this is a good time to remind you that former Cubs executive Scott Harris is the current GM of the Giants. Harris was with the Cubs from 2012-2019, so he’s going to be very familiar with Contreras and Jed Hoyer. Also, the sides worked out a deal just last deadline involving Kris Bryant, Caleb Kilian, and Alexander Canario, so there will be familiarity there in terms of how trade talks go, whom the Cubs are into in the Giants’ farm system (as well as whom the Giants are willing to part with), etc.
There are still seven weeks until the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline, but I could conceive of reasons why the Cubs, *and* any potential Contreras suitors, would want to get a deal done well before the final buzzer. Then again, sometimes it just requires that pressure of a deadline to really bring all bidders to the table.