Ranking Cubs' Willson Contreras' Potential Landing Spots Amid Trade Rumors
As of right now, you can find Willson Contreras behind the plate for the Chicago Cubs and also in the No. 1 spot for All-Star votes among National League catchers.
Come the other side of Major League Baseball's Aug. 2 trade deadline, who knows?
Contreras has been a regular in trade rumors for a couple years at this point, but the chances of the Cubs actually dealing him this time are higher than they've ever been. With their record at 25-43, they're not exactly making the most of his final season before free agency.
Not that this is any fault of Contreras'. Already a two-time All-Star and World Series champion, he's having the best season of his career. He's taken more plate appearances than any other catcher and he likewise leads his peers with a .907 OPS and 2.9 rWAR.
As for where Contreras might ultimately end up, in the meantime we can only speculate on his suitors and rank them according to how badly they need him and how well they line up as trade partners with the Cubs.
10-6: Angels, Red Sox, Rays, Twins and Padres
10. Los Angeles Angels
Record: 33-38 (2nd in AL West)
Catching WAR: 0.3 (T-17th)
With 25 losses in their last 34 games, the Angels first need to climb back into the American League playoff picture before can consider buying at the trade deadline. If they can, Contreras would be an upgrade over Max Stassi at catcher and a short-term answer for the loss of Anthony Rendon (wrist) in the middle of the lineup.
9. Boston Red Sox
Record: 38-31 (3rd in AL East)
Catching WAR: 0 (22nd)
To be fair, Christian Vazquez is an excellent defender and a capable hitter. The Red Sox nonetheless need a consistent batsman who could take pressure off their big three of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez. Contreras is well-suited to that role, at least.
8. Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 37-31 (4th in AL East)
Catching WAR: Minus-0.7 (29th)
Led by Mike Zunino and Francisco Mejia, the Rays are getting just a .516 OPS out of their catchers. Contreras is an obvious savior in this regard, yet there's the pressing question of whether the low-budget Rays would want to take on his $9.6 million salary.
7. Minnesota Twins
Record: 38-31 (T-st in AL Central)
Catching WAR: 0.8 (T-12th)
The Twins already have a dangerous offensive catcher in the person of Gary Sanchez, but it's telling that he's hit better when he's worked out of the designated hitter spot. With him there and Contreras behind the dish, what's already a frightening lineup would look that much scarier.
6. San Diego Padres
Record: 43-27 (T-1st in NL West)
Catching WAR: 1.4 (8th)
Though catching isn't much of a problem in San Diego, A.J. Preller isn't one to shy away from big-ticket additions. Adding Contreras as the power bat that the offense sorely needs would fit the bill, and would certainly make the possibility of the team's first NL West title since 2006 that much more real.
5. Chicago White Sox
Record: 33-33 (3rd in AL Central)
Catching WAR: 0.1 (T-19th)
If the Chicago White Sox are going to make a move for a hitter before the deadline, other positions should arguably take priority over catcher. They're in the bottom third of the league for rWAR at second base, third base, right field and designated hitter.
Also in the bottom third of the league, however, is the .588 OPS that the White Sox are getting from their catchers. Among other things, that speaks to what a disappointing year that Yasmani Grandal is having.
Grandal was one of Chicago's leading hitters in 2021, going off for a .939 OPS and 23 home runs in 93 games. He posted just a .531 through his first 50 games of this season before he landed on the injured list with back spasms.
This is reason enough for the White Sox to have their eye on Contreras, and they wouldn't necessarily have to take it off even if Grandal rediscovers his form upon returning from the IL. Following a trade, he and Contreras could always work in a time-share at catcher and DH.
Rather, Contreras' acquisition cost could be what blocks him from a move from the North Side to the South Side. There aren't any Tier 1 prospects in the White Sox's 26th-ranked farm system, so they'll be at a disadvantage if they enter the bidding war for Contreras.
4. Cleveland Guardians
Record: 35-28 (T-st in AL Central)
Catching WAR: Minus-0.1 (T-23rd)
Like with the Rays, there is some question about whether the Cleveland Guardians would take on the remainder of Contreras' salary in a trade. Maybe even more so with them, as the Guardians' $67.8 million payroll is about $20 million shy of what the Rays are spending.
Apart from that, though, there's a clear fit for Contreras in Cleveland.
Though Austin Hedges is a gifted defensive catcher, he's never been much of a hitter and he's in the middle of what might be his worst ever offensive season. He's batting just .163/.219/.259, so he bears most of the blame for the dismal .501 OPS that Cleveland is getting from its catching corps.
More broadly, the Guardians just plain need a right-handed hitter of Contreras' caliber. The .331 slugging percentage that they're getting from the right side of the plate is the worst in baseball.
As the Guardians have the No. 3 farm system in the league, there isn't much doubt that they have the prospect capital to do a deal with the Cubs. And with the club threatening to take first place in the AL Central from the Twins, one would hope that ownership is becoming more willing to invest in this team by the day.
3. New York Mets
Record: 45-25 (1st in NL East)
Catching WAR: Minus-0.2 (25th)
The New York Mets could have signed J.T. Realmuto during the 2020-21 offseason, but they opted for the bargain option by signing James McCann to a four-year, $40.6 million contract.
Alas, the deal didn't pay immediate dividends in 2021 and it's now looking more like an outright bust in 2022. McCann posted just a .521 OPS in 21 games through May 10, when he suffered a broken hamate bone from which he's still recovering.
Otherwise, Tomas Nido and Patrick Mazeika also have also been largely futile with the bat. So it goes for the position as a whole for the Mets, as the .516 OPS they've gotten from their catchers ranks 26th in the majors.
Though the Mets already have baseball's highest payroll at $260.9 million, asking them to spend more doesn't seem like asking too much. Steve Cohen is the richest owner in baseball, and the team he's constructed for 2022 is as "World Series or bust" as they come.
2. San Francisco Giants
Record: 38-29 (3rd in NL West)
Catching WAR: 0.4 (16th)
Though there are many other factors at play, a downturn in production from the catcher position is one of the reasons the San Francisco Giants aren't dominating like they did in 2021.
Thanks in large part to Buster Posey and his .304 average, the Giants benefited from the majors' fourth-best catching corps en route to 107 wins last season. But then Posey retired, effectively handing the reigns over to top prospect Joey Bart.
This has not been a smooth transition. Bart hit just .156 with a .596 OPS in 36 games with the Giants through June 4, giving them little choice but to option him back to the minors.
With Bart out of the picture, the Giants are relying on Curt Casali and Austin Wynns to carry the load at catcher. That's not a tandem befitting of a team that would win a second straight NL West title, much less one that would return the franchise to the World Series.
1. Houston Astros
Record: 42-25 (1st in AL West)
Catching WAR: Minus-1.0 (30th)
Not one of the teams we've discussed so far is getting viable offense from its catchers in 2022, yet the Houston Astros can still look at each of them with envy in their eyes.
At .474, the OPS they're getting from behind the plate is the worst in all of MLB. Not great for any team, but especially not one that's trying to make its fourth World Series in the last six years.
It's only fair to note that this is more so Jason Castro's doing than Martin Maldonado's. The latter's .516 OPS looks pretty good relative to the former's .352 OPS. Maldonado also has value defensively, specifically as a threat to would-be base stealers.
But is it enough to stick with him? Not really. Maldonado's offense only looks good in comparison to Castro, and his pop times don't make up for what's otherwise a declining defensive skill set. His framing is past its prime and even passed balls have been an issue in 2022.
The catch should be that we have Houston's farm system ranked as the worst in baseball, but the top of said system isn't that bad. It notably features well-regarded catching prospect Korey Lee, who could potentially appeal to the Cubs as an heir apparent for Contreras.