There is a lot to get into in the catching market right now, complete with obvious and significant implications for the Cubs.
Let’s start locally. Jordan Bastian went through his Inbox at Cubs.com, and the first question – How might Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox affect the trade market for Willson Contreras? – got me thinking about the catching trade market.
As we know, Contreras, 27, is likely available in trade this winter, and the Cubs have plenty of lesser reasons to consider moving him – from pitch-framing limitations, to hamstring injuries, to the need to diversify the offense, to the presence of Victor Caratini in the short-term and Miguel Amaya in long-term, etc.
But, clearly, the strongest motivation for a trade is the expectedly high price tag/return, which, for a moment here, may have increased at three different stops.
- First, When Yasmani Grandal signed with the White Sox, the top available catcher of the offseason came off the market and he went to a team that wasn’t going to trade for Contreras anyway. Put differently, the number of like products shrunk, but the number of buyers for the Cubs’ version did not.
- Second, in answering that question over the weekend, Jordan Bastian mentioned that Travis d’Arnaud “looks like the next-best option on the open market.” However, d’Arnaud signed with the Braves yesterday – meaning, the free agent market lost it’s next-best option, leaving Contreras even more obviously the best catching option on the market.
- And third, the size of both contracts – relative to the talent/expected impact of the catcher – help the Cubs in two ways: 1) good catchers are clearly scarce and expensive, pointing to their present, inherent/perceived value. Teams can pay for that value with money in free agency or they can choose to do it with prospects in trade, but either way, bigger free agent contracts usually means better returns (or at least more leverage). 2) Contreras’ three arbitration year of cost control make him all the more valuable and marketable at a time of healthy catcher contracts, especially to smaller market teams that aren’t looking to spend huge dollars
But a new revelation may have gummed a lot of that up. Contreras isn’t alone on the trade market anymore:
Amid the early and heavy movement in the catching market, one name in trades keeps coming up: Omar Narváez. The Seattle Mariners have shown a desire to move him, sources tell ESPN, and a deal could be completed soon. Narváez really can hit. His glove remains a major question.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 25, 2019
Superficially speaking, Narvaez is a really solid trade alternative to Contreras.
A lefty at the plate, Narvaez, 27, is the same age as Contreras, with the same number of arbitration years of control remaining. Contreras (117 wRC+) has the slight edge over Narvaez (113 wRC+) offensively in their careers, but Narvaez (120 wRC+) has the edge over Contreras (112 wRC+) in the last two seasons combined. And while both come with serious questions behind the dish, Narvaez should cost a whole lot less to acquire.
It’s not hard to point out how Contreras is still the more valuable catcher, with much more everyday experience, much better overall defensive value/profile, and three out of four years with at least a 122 wRC+ at the plate. No one should argue Narvaez is as good an option, on paper, as Contreras. He’s not. But the similarities are such that, when considering price tag, he’s gonna look like an attractive trade alternative to Contreras for many teams.
Also, there has never been a more willing trade partner than Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, which just makes a Narvaez deal that much more likely to occur. Indeed, every one of those reasons Contreras’ value has gone up in the last week or so was almost certainly not lost on Dipoto, with respect to Narvaez.
Jordan Bastian mentioned the Rays as potential Contreras suitors this winter, and, indeed, the Tampa Bay Times called finding a catcher their “most pressing” task – indeed, they were in talks to bring back d’Arnaud “as late as Saturday night,” before he signed in Atlanta. So what might the Rays do next?
Well, in a separate piece at The Tampa Bay Times, Marc Topkin touched on the remaining free agents, as well as the trade market, with an explicit Cubs mention: “With d’Arnaud gone, the Rays may look at other free agents, such as Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Yan Gomes and Martin Maldonado, and/or to the trade market, where Cubs All-Star Willson Contreras is among the best available.”
In addition to the Rays, the Brewers (having lost Grandal), Reds, Angels, and Blue Jays are known to be in need of a starting backstop. Obviously, the Reds and Brewers are not going to be realistic options for the Cubs and Contreras (maybe the Angles aren’t real options for the Mariners/Narvaez?) because of the shared division and competitive standing at the moment.
So if you’re rooting for a Contreras trade with a big return, maybe you’re rooting for Narvaez to either stay put or be traded to the Reds or Brewers? Oh, and then him stinking?
There’s absolutely no guarantee that Willson Contreras will be traded this offseason, and it remains debatable whether aggressively shopping him is even the right move for the Cubs. But until Narvaez emerged as a competitor on the market, a Contreras deal was looking plenty plausible. The motivating factors on the market are simply too strong for the Cubs not to look seriously at how they might be able to reshape the roster and the upper levels of the farm system (like I said, those factors are probably why Narvaez popped up in the first place).
So as we approach Thanksgiving and – hopefully – the meat of the offseason in December/The Winter Meetings, keep an eye on that catching market. It’s changing rapidly.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.