11:43 am: Jon Heyman of the New York Post tweet that the two sides are close to a five-year agreement. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote shortly beforehand that the Cardinals had not discussed a deal in four years. The jump to five years would be remarkable, but perhaps necessary to separate the Cardinals from Contrera’s other suitors. John Denton of MLB.com tweeted recently that the length of the deal was indeed the final negotiating point, so if the Cardinals did indeed agree and add a fifth year, that could be what pushes a deal over the finish line.
11:24 am: The Cardinals are closing in on a deal that would pay off Wilson Contraras to St. Louis, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (Twitter link). The old Cub looks like he’ll stay in the NL Central, but adapt to their biggest rival.
St. Louis is determined to find a starting catcher this offseason. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has spoken on a number of occasions that this is the team’s top priority, and he told reporters Monday that he hopes to bring in their new backstop before the Winter Meetings wrap up this afternoon. It looks like the cards will achieve that goal by taking the undisputed best free agent option at the position.
Contreras is one of the game’s more consistent offensive threats behind the plate. He has been an average or better hitter in every season of his career. He has a line of .256/.349/.459 for parts of seven MLB seasons. While he has never surpassed 25 home runs, he has crossed the 20 home run mark four times. With only half a season of action in 2016 and the trimmed schedule in 2020, Contreras only once failed to hit 20 longballs in a full year of playing time (back during a 2018 campaign that turned out to be his worst year to date). to be).
The three-time All-Star will bring that offensive ability to Busch Stadium as he joins Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt as right-handed presences in the middle of the lineup. Contreras performed as well as ever during his platform year, hitting a .243/.349/.466 line with 22 homers over 487 trips to the plate in his final season as a Cub. Those slash stats are about par with the course of Contreras’ career, but they’re becoming increasingly valuable in a league where offense has dropped significantly. According to wRC+, his production was 32 percentage points above the league average, the highest mark of his career.
That offense is even rarer compared to his positional peers. In general, catchers collected only a line of .228/.295/.368 last season. Of the 29 backstops with more than 300 at bats, Contreras trailed alone Alejandro Kirk, Adley Rutschmann and his younger brother William Contraras in base percentage. Only William Contreras, Cal Raleigh, JT Realmuto and Travis d’Arnaud had a higher slugging rate.
Contreras backs up that strong production with high-quality strike statistics. His average exit speed has been over 90 MPH in each of the past two seasons, while he has surpassed a hard contact rate of 47% in each of the past three years. For reference, the league averages in those respective categories are 88.4 MPH and 35.8%. Contreras’ strikeouts and walks tend to hover around average, leading to a solid offensive profile built around his above-average strength.
While there is little doubt about his attacking record, Contreras’ glove has been a major talking point for months. With the Cubs out of contention on this past trade deadline and little desire to work out a long-term deal, the 30-year backstop was one of the summer’s top trade candidates. Concerns about his ability to manage a pitching staff and call a game trickled down in the weeks leading up to August 2, and the Cubs hung onto him. That’s not to say there wasn’t interest – reports later emerged that the Astros were willing to send starter Jose Urquidy to Chicago in a one-for-one trade before Houston’s ownership killed the deal – but anxiety over his in-game acumen has lingered into the offseason.
That’s a non-quantifiable concern, and it’s probably not much of an urgent issue since Contreras has a few months to build rapport with pitchers before getting into action. Teams generally tend to be wary of drastic mid-season shakeups behind the plate, reasoning that it’s hard for a new signing to learn pitching tendencies during a pennant race. Houston Captain Dusty Baker, who encouraged ownership to kill trade during the summer, told reporters this week he would be much more interested in bringing Contreras in as a free agent during the offseason. To that end, Houston reportedly put out a multi-year bid and was seemingly one of the favorites for his services, but it looks like they will lose the bidding in the long run.
Contreras, it’s worth noting, is doing well enough behind the plate in more measurable aspects. Statcast has seen him as a roughly average pitch-framer for the past three seasons as he worked to overcome atrocious numbers from earlier in his career. Contreras boasts an excellent arm, having cut 29.8% of base-stealer attempts in his career. That’s well north of this year’s 25% league average. Statcast credited him with the 11th lowest pop time (average time to throw to second on an attempted steal) of 73 backstops with more than 10 attempts in 2022.
St. Louis is clearly comfortable enough with Contreras’ overall defensive profile to make him their successor behind the plate as a franchise icon Jadier Molina. They explored a number of trading and free agent opportunities, with reports linking them to the #2 free agent at the position (Christian Vazquez) and top trade candidates Sean Murphy and Danny Jansen. Ultimately, they will likely hold off on trading young talent for a catcher and move to the top of the market in free agency. Contreras acts as their #1 backstop, relegated Andrew Knizner to reserve service and enable the team to keep an eye out Ivan Herrera in Triple A.
The financial terms are unclear, though reports last night suggested the Cardinals and Contreras’ camp was held up over whether he would be guaranteed a fourth year. At the start of the off-season, MLBTR predicted he would close a four-year, $84 million deal. Something in that ballpark would be one of the biggest free agent contracts in franchise history. The Cardinals have only made more than $80 million for a free agent three times Matt Holliday for $120 MM and around $80 MM for both Mike Lee and Dexter Fowler.
If a deal is finalized, the Cardinals will also have to hand in a draft pick. Contreras turned down a qualifying offer from the Cubs early in the off-season, binding him with a draft fee. St. Louis received no revenue sharing payments in 2022, nor did it exceed the luxury tax threshold. sign bonus space.
Meanwhile, the Cubs will choose between Competitive Balance Round B and the third round in next year’s draft. That usually comes out around 75th place overall. It will come as little consolation to a fan base disappointed to see a fan favorite leave, especially to join their most hated rival. Contreras’ departure has long seemed inevitable given the team’s lack of desire to make a long-term commitment. Chicago continues with John Gomes and possibly an outside acquisition behind the court, the latest example of the team closing the book on its curse-breaking 2016 club. Kyle Hendrikswho is under contract for one more season is the only remaining player of that team.
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