Lukewarm Stove: Rays a Match for Contreras? Cardinals Out on Top FAs? Blue Jays Catchers? More

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Lukewarm Stove: Rays a Match for Contreras? Cardinals Out on Top FAs? Blue Jays Catchers? More

Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein may have called 2020 “a priority” when it comes to the plan this offseason, but I’ll excuse you from buying all the way in – especially when those comments are immediately followed by words of caution: “We have to balance it with the future and probably that’s more important now than it was even a year ago …. ”

Indeed, this winter is often marketed as the “offseason of change,” by the press and the front office – and I genuinely understand why – but comments like that and, more importantly, our experience with last winter’s fruitless “offseason of accountability” just make it so hard to actually believe, right?

Yes. We have to see the change to believe it. But there is a pretty distinct difference this time around.

  • Epstein can always be overheard saying things like the Cubs will be “open-minded about this roster,” like he did to the Chicago Sun Times earlier this week. And if that were the end of his thoughts, I’d say we’re in store for more of the same this offseason. But when the extremely tight-lipped Epstein explicitly says “I expect to have a lot of trade discussions this winter,” it catches my attention. Other Presidents and GMs talk that way. Epstein does not. If you needed any more evidence that Willson Contreras or Kris Bryant are really, actively available in trade this offseason, I don’t know what it will be.

  • Looking for specifics? Well, when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer head to the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona this week, I think they’ll want to find Rays GM Erik Neander for a chat. Consider that Neander had this to say about his roster priorities this offseason: “Determining what the catcher position will look like for us in 2020 is an obvious focus,” Neander said. “Beyond that, we’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs (than their 769 that was tied for seventh in the AL) without sacrificing run prevention.” We all know Contreras isn’t the strongest framer, but there aren’t many better offensive catchers in the entire game. By landing Contreras, the Rays could kill two birds with one stone (adding a catcher and adding offense). And I suppose you even can add a third Rays-specific bird, considering Contreras’ first-year arbitration eligibility. Right now, the Rays are looking at Travis d’Arnaud exiting in free agency, and Mike Zunino perhaps a non-tender.
  • Separately, the Boston Globe cited the Rays need for a catcher and “righthanded power.” Again, it’s easy to see how Contreras fits.
  • But he isn’t the only catching option out there. Blue Jays catchers have reportedly been “drawing interest from other clubs,” this offseason, and that will directly impact the Cubs’ own marketing of Contreras (and/or the Cubs’ filling of needs later on). With that said, the 24-year-old Danny Jansen is a very different catcher than Contreras (he’s great defensively and in terms of pitch-framing, but he had an OPS under .700 in 2019). In any case, the Blue Jays apparently have a ton of other catchers in their system that could be expendable, so keep an eye on them as these Contreras’ rumors develop. More at MLB Trade Rumors.
  • The St. Louis Post-Dispatch took a look at the various tiers of free agency, as well as how likely the Cardinals are to be in play. And I think you’ll be happy to hear that the “big three” of Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Stephen Strasburg are basically not on the radar. Beyond them, however, Madison Bumgarner seems to be the most likely target among the better free agents, which is something on which we’ve speculated in the past. But re-signing Marcell Ozuna and Adam Wainwright, before going after Dallas Keuchel and Mike Moustakas are all rated as more likely to happen.
  • My sense? The Cardinals will make their re-signings and then get another starting pitcher Bumgarner is still my bet. It just feels right (in all the wrong ways). Note that previous chatter out of St. Louis, like so many other markets this year, has been all about how payroll is tapped. Shrug.
  • The Boston Globe did a rumor dump on every single team, and among the bigger notes is the Nationals’ interest in keeping both Anthony Rendon *and* Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg, in particular, is considered “amenable to a deal.” Another interesting bit was the Reds potential interest in Jackie Bradley, Jr. Obviously that’d be an interesting trade in isolation, but it’s also a reminder that the Reds are back on the competitive swing – or, at least, they are trying to be.
  • From that same piece, The Globe mentions the Red Sox need for a No. 5 starter, a left-handed hitting utility player, and a back-up catcher. So basically, you can pencil in Tyler Chatwood, Ian Happ, and Victor Caratini for Mookie Betts, right? 🙂 That’s obviously a joke, but I personally won’t count the Cubs out on Betts until he’s traded or the season starts. It is nice to know what the Sox are looking for, even if generally speaking.
  • If you need any more reason to believe the Angels are going to go hog-wild in free agency this offseason – likely with their sights set on Gerrit Cole – read this piece from the OC Register. In fact, the Angels are looking for two starting pitchers this offseason and haven’t ruled out the trade market to find at least one of them. Interestingly, they’re also looking for a catcher, but don’t seem anxious to spend cash on one in free agency. Perhaps Joe Maddon can lobby for Willson Contreras to join him in Orange County? I tend to doubt it, but … hey, ya never know.
  • At, Mark Feinsand lays some groundwork for the GM Meetings, including potential landing spots for Cole (Angels, Dodgers, Yankees are seen as the most likely, but the Phillies, Rangers, and Padres are also mentioned). But I find the market for Anthony Rendon (Nationals, Rangers, Phillies, Braves, and Angels) the most interesting bit, given what it could mean for Kris Bryant’s own market as an equally talented, but less pricey (in terms of dollars) alternative over the next two years. And for what it’s worth, Feinsand gets into the Bryant-Lindor-Betts trade chatter, mostly just acknowledging that yeah … it’s real.
  • From earlier today:

  • I know some of you have had your eye on Howie Kendrick for the Cubs (I haven’t really felt too strongly about it yet), but there is competition, even if it’s not deep-pocketed:

  • And finally, it’s fake report season, so be aware:

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami