The Chicago Cubs kicked off a full-scale rebuild – or a re-tooling if you ask the front office – at the July trade deadline, trading Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, among others, in a flurry of moves. Two-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras is now the only position player left from the 2016 World Series team. But with less than a week left in the season, it’s very possible Contreras is playing his final games in a Cubs uniform.
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer stated the Cubs plan to be “really active” in free agency. Hoyer also noted the team plans to spend money intelligently, which begs the question: is giving money to an almost 30-year-old catcher whose trends are not friendly to him intelligent?
On top of that, go back to last winter where the Cubs and Marlins flirted with a Contreras trade that never came to fruition. It would not be surprising in the least to see the teams revisit talks again this offseason. The Cubs, for whatever reason, have a nagging itch to get rid of anything regarding the 2016 team – just ask the former core.
Contreras’ strikeout rate has steadily gone up since he came into the league, he has never had a 3.0-WAR season and his OBP is as low as it’s ever been this year. His contact percentage has been below 70 percent for three straight years, with the lowest being 67.5 percent this season. Contreras caught the most innings in the National League in 2019, and is near the top again in 2021. These trends are huge red flags when thinking about a long-term contract extension.
This is not meant to bash Contreras, a guy who has become a fan favorite due to his passion and skills on both sides of the ball. Rather, it’s pointing out some things that fans should be worried about if the Cubs decide to sign him to a long-term contract.
Chicago Cubs: The problem with trading Willson Contreras
The Cubs don’t have much depth behind Contreras. They used six catchers behind him this season and there is nobody who can start consistently other than him. There are some veteran free agent catchers available where the Cubs will probably go, should their options not be picked up, such as Christian Vazquez and Mike Zunino. There are catchers that don’t have an option attached to them such as Yan Gomes, but the pickings are slim and the Cubs may need to make a trade.
They may keep Contreras simply because there are no better options, but nobody should be surprised if they trade him and maybe even get a catcher in return, similar to how they got a pitcher in return for closer Craig Kimbrel.
If the Cubs are serious about spending, and spending intelligently, they won’t sign Contreras to an extension given his offensive trends and the wear and tear he’s seen from the catcher spot, and they will try to capitalize on an impending free agent. Otherwise, they’ll let Willson play out 2022.