This week, there was a fresh trade rumor connecting the catching-needy (and Joe-Maddon-helmed) Los Angeles Angels with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. But it was hardly the only rumor of its kind to pop up since Jed Hoyer called any reports of the Cubs extensively shopping their young catcher “fictional” at his … We-Just-Traded-the-2020-Cy-Young-Runner-Up press conference.
Indeed, a write-up out of Philadelphia is now calling Contreras “the best Plan B” to replace outgoing free agent catcher J.T. Realmuto, if they’re unable to re-sign him, themselves. And here are a few key lines that piece (via Corey Seidman):
Teams have likely been calling the Cubs all offseason about Contreras, but things could speed up after the trade of Yu Darvish to San Diego….
The Cubs shouldn’t and likely won’t give away Contreras, a very good player at a crucial position entering his prime. They should be able to find a trade partner that sends back either big-league-ready useful piece(s) or prospect(s) of some significance….
But there’s no doubt that Contreras is the best Plan B to date in replacing Realmuto.
You may have noticed that Seidman is one big step away from reporting the Phillies’ current interest in trading for Contreras, but he does make all the expected points regarding his prior availability, the Cubs’ renewed sense of urgency to get something done, and the obvious match for the Phillies. And perhaps more importantly, Seidman lays down a ton of praise for Contreras’ offensive upside and defensive improvements over the past year, appropriately measuring his value in trade at sky-high levels.
Buuuut … there’s a big but.
After free agent catcher James McCann signed his multi-year deal with the Mets earlier this offseason, one huge and obvious suitor for Realmuto was taken off the table. And that instantly made the Phillies (now catcher-less, but still expecting to compete for the division in 2021) a far more likely landing spot for the free agent catcher — an outcome that may have doubled in likelihood, when they hired the free-wheeling executive, Dave Dombrowski, as their new president of baseball operations (but hold onto that thought for now).
So to cut to the point: A report *out of Philadelphia* about how great and fantastic and available Contreras, an obvious alternative to Realmuto, is should be met with some guarded skepticism. It’s not difficult to imagine why someone in, say, the Phillies front office would want something like this out there. It gives them some instant leverage in negotiations with Realmuto, whom you’d have to assume they’d prefer to retain at a reasonable price, all things relatively equal.
HOWEVA, there is a big but to that last but … and that brings us back to Dombrowski. While I do believe the Phillies would rather re-sign Realmuto at their price than trade for Contreras, Dombrowski is legitimately a mad man when it comes to transactions. Historically, he’s been more Brian Cashman (free agents) than Jerry DiPoto (trades), but I have little doubt that he’ll try his best to exit this winter with one of those two catchers on his roster. So even if he does actually prefer Realmuto, I would bet Contreras is considered something more than merely conveniently-timed leverage.
So where does that leave us? Well, normally, at this point, I’d discuss if the Phillies actually have the pieces to pull off a deal for a player of this caliber, youth, and remaining cheap control, but I think the answer is probably … not really? Their top two prospects, righty Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm are both top-30 types who’ve graduated over the last year or so and have taken expectedly significant roles in the big league team, but Seidman concedes that they “need both” to compete this season (trading them would be robbing Peter to pay Paul). Meanwhile, their only remaining top-100 prospects are their 2019 and 2020 first-rounders, both back-end of the top-100 types, who probably don’t quite fulfill what the Cubs are looking to accomplish in this sort of deal.
Could some mix of the four players above get a deal done? Yeah, probably. But the Phillies are probably not as much of an obvious match as, say, the Angels, who have some big league pieces they could moveand a little clearer path (and incentive) to max out over the next couple seasons. Then again, as we’ve learned in the Padres-Darvish trade, sometimes, when you’ve more or less already decided you’re going to move someone, you have to make things work with your available options (I’d hate for the Cubs to do that with Contreras, but at this point, I’m not sure if that would actually surprise me … sigh).
We’ll put a pin in this for now, because I don’t want to go too far down a rabbit hole based on only this one report that could very well have mixed motives, but I do want to end with something simple and straight forward: As a fan, I *really* don’t want the Cubs to trade Contreras. In fact, he remains my No. 1 priority for an extension, even as the Cubs seem to have Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez ahead of him in that line. HOWEVER, if the Cubs (1) are already also planning to trade Kris Bryant before the season and (2) legitimately believe in Miguel Amaya and his readiness for 2022, then seeking out the *right* return for Contreras this winter, is something I could at least understand, even if not enjoy.
It just better be a HAUL.