I know. You can’t take another Cubs departure right now. Don’t worry. This is just a rumor on the Cubs’ perspective, not a rumor that something is about to happen. You should at least have some time to reset your heart.
In writing up the recent Mets-hot-on-James-McCann rumor, Joel Sherman at the New York Post includes a section of interest to Cubs fans. Here’s how he frames the availability of alternatives on the market: “Realmuto is still out there. So is Yadier Molina. The Cubs are very open to trading Willson Contreras. The Mets, in other words, have options.”
The Cubs are very open to trading Willson Contreras.
Let’s talk about that phrase, its context, and how much we can or cannot take away from it right now.
I suppose in a way we already know it to be true. Like I discussed earlier this week, the Cubs do have to be opportunistic when looking at their roster and their medium-to-long-term future. If some team wants to go over the top to land Contreras right now, then, sure, the Cubs are “very open” to doing that.
But are the Cubs SO open to it that he’s considered one of the top four, super-clearly-available quality catchers on the market right now? Contreras and three free agents? It just seems notable that Sherman chose Contreras, specifically, to be the one would-be-trade candidate in a group of otherwise completely freely available players. It reads like a guy on the trade block, rather than just a team that’s listening.
Not sure I’d go quite that far. That is to say, I’m not so sure the Cubs are “very open” to trading Contreras (smaller salary, two years of control) in the same way that they are “very open” to trading someone like Kris Bryant (much larger salary, one year of control). I would say at this point we have some confidence that the Cubs entered the offseason planning to shop Kris Bryant, and move him if an acceptable deal presents itself. By contrast, I think the Cubs are moreso just listening on Contreras if the catching market appetite gets strong enough.
That said, I remain convinced that it doesn’t really make sense to just let Kyle Schwarber walk, trade Kris Bryant for a fringe prospect or two, and then call it an offseason. You either need to make some moves designed to supplement the part of the team you’re running back for 2021, or you need to go the rumored “heavy restart” route, and trade some guys with actual value. You take the hit in 2021, add long-term value to the organization, and aim to start spending again next offseason when revenues have stabilized and there’s a really compelling free agent class.
And to that end, you’re going to get value only where you trade value. Contreras, as much as we love him, probably has among the most trade value on the roster right now. So maybe “very open” to a trade is the right way to describe the situation after all, especially with all those “heavy restart” rumors out there.
(Also, let me add that in Sherman’s framing, Contreras is being offered up as so available that he’s an alternative to the Mets such that they don’t have to go to four years for McCann. That very well could simply be someone with the Mets telling Sherman their perspective because they’re trying to land McCann for two or three years. Keep in mind, the Mets have said they greatly prefer to use money this offseason rather than trade assets, so I’m not really sure Contreras is a realistic option for the Mets, specifically.)