After trading away franchise cornerstones Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javy Báez at last year’s deadline, the Chicago Cubs will once again be major sellers.
Relievers David Robertson and Mychal Givens will both fetch a good return for Chicago, as will Ian Happ. However, the most important trade Jed Hoyer will negotiate in the coming weeks will be for three-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras.
Contreras has been one of the best catchers in baseball this season. His 139 wRC+ ranks first among NL catchers and eleventh in the league overall. His .373 on-base percentage would make him a valuable addition to the middle of any contending team’s lineup.
While any club would love to add a bat like Contreras, his market is limited by his defensive position. Many teams with postseason aspirations already have established catchers.
This includes the Blue Jays (Alejandro Kirk), the Phillies (J.T. Realmuto), the Dodgers (Will Smith), the Yankees (Jose Trevino), the Braves (Travis d’Arnaud), the Brewers (Omar Narváez, Victor Caratini), the Mariners (Cal Raleigh), and the Red Sox (Christian Vázquez).
A couple other teams in the playoff hunt could be dark horse candidates to land Contreras if they are looking for an upgrade, but will probably stick with their current backstop. This includes the Padres (Austin Nola) and the Twins (Gary Sanchez).
The Cardinals could use an upgrade at catcher, but they’re all but certain to stick with Yadier Molina. The White Sox are in a similar boat, and they will most likely count on Yasmani Grandal to snap out of his slump and return to form.
That takes most teams out of the mix, but there are still a handful of clubs who should be very interested in Contreras. Here are five teams that could deal for the Cubs catcher before the August 2 deadline.
On paper, Houston seems like a perfect fit for Willson Contreras. The Astros have made it clear they’re looking to add a bat. In particular, they could use a right-handed hitter to help against left-handed pitchers, and Contreras fits that bill.
They could also use an upgrade at catcher. Their backstops rank dead-last in the American League with a .161 batting average and 53 wRC+.
The thing is, Houston actually loves their veteran catcher Martín Maldonado, despite his unimpressive numbers. The pitching staff raves about his game-calling abilities, and his coaches praise his leadership in the clubhouse.
With that in mind, it would be rather surprising to see the Astros trade for Contreras. That being said, it’s such a good fit that the possibility cannot be ruled out.
San Francisco Giants
Catching has been one of the Giants’ biggest strengths for a long time. But when franchise icon Buster Posey unexpectedly retired after the 2021 season, San Francisco was left with a big hole behind the plate.
Former top prospect Joey Bart has struggled to take Posey’s place thus far. Through the first two months of the season, he hit just .156 before being sent down to the minor leagues. Veteran Curt Casali did a fine, if unspectacular, job of filling in for the next month before landing on the IL with an oblique injury.
Bart was recalled from Triple-A to take his place, and has done better over the past few weeks, hitting .244 with a .422 slugging percentage in 17 games.
Casali is a capable veteran, and Bart is still a promising young player. The two can get the job done behind the plate. But if the Giants are looking for an upgrade to stay afloat in the Wild Card race, Willson Contreras would make for an excellent addition to the lineup.
Bart could use some extra time finding his footing at Triple-A, and Casali is better suited for a backup role anyway. When Contreras and Casali both reach free agency at the end of the season, Bart will hopefully be ready to take on the catching role full-time.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have had a tough go of it behind the plate this season. Mike Zunino, one of the best catchers in baseball last year, got off to a terrible start before succumbing to a season-ending injury.
Francisco Mejia was doing a fine job in Zunino’s absence, but he just landed on the injured list himself. He should be back within a few weeks. And while Meija has been good this season, batting .258 with a .423 slugging percentage in 59 games, it is still a far cry from the production Tampa Bay was hoping to get from their backstop.
Willson Contreras would certainly make for a big upgrade, and he could provide the Rays with the kind of offense they were counting on from Zunino.
However, Contreras is not a perfect fit in Tampa Bay. He is right-handed, and the Rays would benefit more from adding a left-handed bat. Tampa also already has a competent catcher in Meija, who will be back sometime in August. It could be tough to find playing time for both of them down the stretch, especially since the Rays already have an established DH in Harold Ramirez.
Nevertheless, Contreras would improve the team tremendously, and Kevin Cash can find a way to make it work for a player of his caliber. The Rays aren’t the most likely landing spot for Contreras, but don’t count them out either.
Heading into the season, most sources expected the Chicago White Sox to run away with the AL Central. The Guardians were mostly an afterthought; not as complete a team as the White Sox, nor as talented as the Twins, nor even as intriguing as the Tigers.
Yet as things currently shake out, the AL Central is a three-team race. Minnesota, Cleveland, and Chicago are all within three games of one another.
The Guardians sit just 1.5 games back of the Twins and 1.5 games ahead of the White Sox. Their expected win-loss record, based on run differential, is also 1.5 games behind Minnesota and 5 ahead of Chicago. The Guardians are very much in this race.
To remain in step with their division rivals, however, they will need reinforcements. And where does Cleveland need the most help? At catcher and designated hitter.
Guardians catchers are hitting just .174 this season with a .531 OPS. The team has gotten good defense from catchers Luke Maile and Austin Hedges, but both are liabilities with the bat.
Meanwhile, designated hitter Franmil Reyes has been abysmal at the plate this season, hitting .220 with a 76 wRC+. He has been worth -0.7 FanGraphs WAR.
Willson Contreras could take at-bats at both catcher and DH. He would be a huge boost for a team that has been absolutely dreadful against left-handed pitching. Don’t be surprised if Contreras is suiting up with José Ramírez and Shane Bieber come August 3.
New York Mets
The New York Mets are looking more and more like the favorites to land Willson Contreras each day. They are perfectly situated to go all-in, and there is no better way for them to make a big splash.
Mets backstops are tied for dead last in baseball with a .516 OPS this season. Tomás Nido has played strong defense, but he can’t hit a lick. The same is true of James McCann.
New York has also gotten very little production from the DH spot this season. New addition Daniel Vogelbach will help against right-handed pitching, but Contreras could start some games at DH against southpaws.
The Mets are playing with their most talented roster in years. They have already demonstrated a willingness to go all-in to win, spending close to $300 million on payroll. They should be major players at this year’s deadline, and trading for Contreras is the smartest move they can make.