That Cubs-Royals trade sure seemed to come together fast, eh? Things went from Willson Contreras had tight shoes to Cubs acquired a new catcher seemingly in a matter of hours. Against that backdrop, you didn’t need Theo Epstein to tell you that it must have been the case that the two teams had already been talking, but he said it anyway last night.
And it was very interesting:
Theo said Cubs had actually been in talks with KC about Maldonado prior to the Contreras MRI/diagnosis:
"We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) July 16, 2019
So many implications there.
One thing to note up front is that the Cubs pursued Maldonado in the offseason to be their veteran back-up, despite the presence of Victor Caratini behind Willson Contreras. So the fact that the Cubs were quietly already pursuing him even before the Contreras injury is perhaps not as surprising as it seemed late last night. After all, you want catching depth heading into August and September no matter what, and without the ability to make waiver trades in August, you kinda gotta get the guy when you can – and figure out the roster implications later. Clearly, they have long liked Maldonado for his defense, receiving skills, his work with pitchers, and maybe even his work with the other catchers.
To that end, what happens when Contreras is ready to return, especially if it’s as soon as the Cubs are suggesting? Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean Caratini is gone, because it’s not as if the Cubs couldn’t carry three catchers, as Michael mentioned earlier. And if the Cubs were trying to get Maldonado even before the Contreras injury, that means they were already planning on working around the Caratini issue.
… of course, it *could* also mean they were already considering trades involving Caratini. That would surprise me, given his upside and play this year, as well as the overall lack of upper-level catching depth, but it obviously can’t be ruled out. And when Contreras returns, this will obviously be very much on your radar.
But I’d like to dig in a little more on Epstein’s note that the Cubs and Royals had been working on a “version” of this deal before the injury became clear. Did the version include a limited deal for Maldonado? A limited deal for Montgomery? Them both in an expanded deal? Are there still talks going on with the Royals for other players?
I know your head will immediately go to Whit Merrifield, but as we’ve discussed, that seems unlikely.
Instead, the guy that comes to mind for me is lefty Jake Diekman, a guy the Cubs have been tied to several times the last couple years. He continues to rack up absurd strikeout totals, but his overall results have been crummy the last two years. I mention him less because I’m like, “Oooh get him,” and more because I know that he’s the type of guy this front office often picks up this time of year. They’ve been tied to him before, and they were already talking to the Royals. You do the math.
In any case, all things Royals should be on your radar now, because we know the two teams have been discussing trade options beyond the one-for-one deal they pulled off last night.
Then, when Contreras returns, things might heat up even more – with the Royals, or with other teams trying to pry loose Caratini.