Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is enjoying the best season of his career and is the biggest name being floated in MLB trade rumors this summer. With his team willing to flip the All-Star slugger for prospects before he departs in free agency, a trade seems inevitable.
On the surface, Contreras seems like the caliber of talent worthy of an outstanding return. In terms of his production at the plate, Contreras is the best catcher in baseball offensively. With MLB postseason contenders like the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets and Houston Astros in desperate need of a great backstop, that would seemingly create the perfect market.
- Willson Contreras stats (2022): .279/.393/.524, 12 home runs, 40 runs scored, 157 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR
However, Contreras will only be a half-season rental, which significantly alters his trade value. MLB teams have become increasingly unwilling to trade top prospects, especially for a player who can walk in the upcoming offseason. Another factor working against Contreras is that he ranks 28th among catchers in StatCast’s pitch framing and is only slightly above average in pop time.
Combine those factors with the concerns MLB teams have about a catcher acquired in late July handling the transition to a new pitching staff in the middle of a playoff race, context matters when evaluating potential trade returns.
Let’s examine three potential landing spots for a Willson Contreras trade.
Willson Contreras traded to San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey retiring significantly hurt the San Francisco Giants. While the club might have held out some hope that top prospect Joey Bart took advantage of a great opportunity, that experiment ended badly. Now, San Francisco’s catchers are really dragging this team down.
San Francisco and Chicago obviously have a history, the Kris Bryant trade is already working out nicely for the Cubs. The familiarity with the Giants’ farm system, even a year later, should help the two sides if Farhan Zaidi decides to make another aggressive move this summer.
- San Francisco Giants trade: Heliot Ramos, Sean Hjelle, Steven Duggar
- Chicago Cubs trade: Willson Contreras, $2 million cash
In this deal, San Francisco parts with one of its top-five prospects. Heliot Ramos, a 22-year-old outfielder, is splitting time between Triple-A Sacramento and the MLB club this year. He is struggling (.217/.299/.333 slash line in AAA), but there is above-average power and speed with the chance to become a productive everyday outfielder. Meanwhile, Hjelle provides Chicago with more pitching depth.
As for the Giants, they might have seen enough from Ramos in the past two seasons to determine it’s time to make a move. Zaidi’s eye for talent will allow him to find other outfield prospects, making Ramos more expendable. If trading him means acquiring an All-Star catcher for a few months, it’s worth it.
MLB Standings 2022
Houston Astros solve catching problems
The Houston Astros situation at catcher makes the Giants seem like they have a star. Entering play on June 21, Houston’s catchers ranked 29th in wRC+ (39) and combined for a truly awful .140/.222/.248 slash line. While defense at the position matters, the value is completely lost when you gift an automatic out to your opponent.
- Chicago Cubs trade: Willson Contreras
- Houston Astros trade: Pedro Leon, Forrest Whitley, Alex Santos, Cristian Gonzalez
Houston’s farm system isn’t as strong as the one in San Francisco. As a result, the front office will likely have to part with a package of prospects closer to the top of their system and they have to give up more quantity.
From Chicago’s perspective, it rolls the dice on Forrest Whitley as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery. There’s a tremendous risk, but the upside of a mid-rotation starter is enticing. Combine that with Pedro Leon – a $4 million signee in the 2020-’21 international class – along with an enticing arm in Alex Santos.
For the Astros, it’s taking an aggressive approach with the 2022 season. Houston’s rotation is outstanding and can handle a new catcher being brought in midseason. With Contreras added to the lineup, this team stands a much better shot of competing with the New York Yankees.
New York Mets trade for Willson Contreras
The New York Mets can tolerate James McCann at catcher, but it’s setting too low of a standard for a World Series threat. If the front office and ownership wants to prove it belongs as one of the best MLB teams in 2022 and to potentially set the stage for a New York World Series, Contreas helps push towards that goal.
- New York Mets acquire: Willson Contreras, $2 million
- Chicago Cubs acquire: Matt Allan, Carlos Cortes, Dominic Smith
Publicly, New York has put out reports that acquiring Contreras is unlikely due to the acquisition cost. However, that evaluation could change if a determination is made that a half-season rental at catcher provides a better return on the price than whatever a seller wants for a front-line pitcher.
Contreras fits very nicely into what the Mets’ lineup is accomplishing this season. He dropped his strikeout rate (19.8%) under 20 percent for the first time in his career and a 10.1% walk rate for the second consecutive season is outstanding. On top of that, he consistently puts the ball in play and delivers in key situations.
That’s worth packaging Matt Allen and Carlos Cortes, along with moving on from Dominic Smith. New York can install Contreras as its everyday catcher for the stretch run, mixing him in at designated hitter to keep his bat in the lineup. When he walks in the offseason, Francisco Alvarez will be ready to step in.