willson contreras smokiesDropped into a read about the Cubs’ offseason and the loveliness thereof, Peter Gammons mentions something very interesting in his rundown of the Cubs’ efforts to acquire a cost-controlled starter: “They were in the Shelby Miller sweepstakes, but the Braves insisted on both Soler and Willson Contreras, but Chicago would not include Contreras, who may well end up catching in the big leagues as the season progresses.”

You could read that a couple ways, including a particular affection by the Cubs for Contreras – as in, they were not going to include him in a deal for Miller no matter what. I think the other reading is more likely, which is that, in combination with Soler, Contreras was simply too much to give up for Miller. I’d agree.

Frankly, I was always on the fence about a straight up Miller-for-Soler swap, even as much as I liked Miller. I’m not surprised to hear that the Cubs didn’t want to part with both young players for Miller.

That said, it’s still fairly telling that, at least according to Gammons’ sources, Contreras was the second piece the Braves wanted, and the Cubs wouldn’t pull the trigger. Compare a Soler/Contreras return to the massive Inciarte/Dansby/Blair package the Braves actually got for Miller. There’s some debate about who has more value, Soler or Inciarte, so, if the Braves were solely asking for Soler and Contreras, you could make an argument that they, too, really love Contreras.

Something to keep in mind about Contreras, and entirely separate from his substantial value as an asset in trade: the guy could be incredibly valuable to the big league team during their current competitive window.

Consider that Miguel Montero, who’ll turn 33 next year, is under control for just two more years. Moreover, he’s coming off a thumb injury, and he’s missed time in the recent past. The Cubs’ primary back-up catcher for 2016 is David Ross, who is 39 next year and planning on retiring after the season. Then you’ve got Kyle Schwarber, whose primary role in 2016 will be left field. Behind that group, the Cubs aren’t looking at a ton of upper level catching depth at AA and AAA.

Add it all up, and it’s not at all hard to see the Cubs needing Contreras as soon as this season if things go awry at the big league level and Contreras is progressing well. You never take anything off the table, and I’m not saying I can’t envision a circumstance where the Cubs would have to pull the trigger on trading Contreras, but the safer play is to hang onto him unless there is supreme confidence in Schwarber being able to catch nearly every day if something were to happen to Montero mid-season.

Contreras, 23, broke out in a big way in 2015, and arguably became the Cubs’ top prospect. The bat looks to be solid in the big leagues when the time comes, and the defense is coming along. With his athleticism and the time to develop, and given some glowing reports here and there, some believe Contreras can be an average or above-average defensive catcher in the big leagues. The young man could have a very bright future very soon.

He was performing well in the Arizona Fall League before a hamstring injury ended things early. With an offseason to rest up, hopefully Contreras will be at full strength when Spring Training rolls around. After that, he’ll head to AAA Iowa to be the primary catcher there and continue his development.

From there, anything could happen.

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