Thanks to a long shadow cast by multi-offseason trade rumors for Kris Bryant, the completed deal for Yu Darvish, the many (many) farewells on the field, in the front office, and in the broadcast booth, and the general budgetary concerns in Chicago (which may have been alleviated slightly?), the Willson Contreras offseason rumors probably haven’t received the attention they deserve. Maybe that’s just because I was living in denial.
But if you think back, you’ll see that there has been a TON of smoke this offseason. In early December, we learned that the Cubs are very open to trading Contreras. In early January, the Angels first began showing interest in a deal for the Cubs catcher. A few days later, the Phillies were reportedly considering Contreras as a Plan B to J.T. Realmuto. Four days after that, the Marlins were connected to his market. And just ten days ago, the Nationals were linked to Contreras yet again. And all the while, the Cubs were open about their desire to add impactful long-term pieces, even if it meant being “opportunistic” on the trade market.
Well, since then, the Phillies have signed Realmuto and the Nationals added Alex Avila to Yan Gomes (and we were already skeptical about their ability to facilitate a deal), which leaves the Angels and Marlins still on the line, along with perhaps any teams that may have missed out on Realmuto (Braves? Blue Jays?).
Well, today there’s a material update with respect to Los Angeles via Robert Murray, and so I think we should keep our eyes peeled as Spring Training nears:
Even after signing Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal, the Los Angeles Angels have explored additional upgrades at catcher. Among the players of interest include the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras and Boston Red Sox’s Christian Vasquez, according to league sources.
The Angels’ interest in Contreras, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, would reunite the 28-year-old with longtime manager Joe Maddon. The Cubs have held conversations with multiple teams about Contreras, including the Miami Marlins, but talks have not gained traction.
As of today, Angels catcher Max Stassi (0.9 WAR) and recent free agent signing Kurt Suzuki (0.6 WAR) project for just 1.5 WAR in 2021 according to ZiPS. Contreras, by contrast, has a 2.4 WAR projection, which is probably especially conservative given what we know about the strides he’s made with pitch framing over the past year and the likelihood that those changes are here to stay (but may not have been factored in heavily enough into the ZiPS multi-year formula). And given that the Angels are *clearly* hoping to compete in 2021 and that Stassi won’t be ready, let alone effective, by opening day (as he continues to recover from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip), the Angels interest in adding a catcher of Contreras’ caliber is easy to understand.
His prior relationship with Joe Maddon and the Angels’ newest starter, Jose Quintana, is just gravy on top from their perspective, I’d imagine.
But even still, it was reasonable to back off on the Contreras-Angels rumors after they signed Suzuki, at least until someone actually confirmed that they could still be after him. But here we are.
The last time these rumors popped up (via Ken Rosenthal), they got as far as mentioning possible prospects to watch in such a deal, which doesn’t usually happen if there aren’t some semi-serious talks. But somehow, I’m even LESS certain about the Cubs intentions this offseason (and what they might target in return) than I was at that time.
No, the Cubs haven’t exactly gone on a spending spree now that some money has loosened up, but they did just add Joc Pederson for 2021, so it hardly seems implausible that the Cubs might be more inclined to hang onto Contreras at the moment since he, you know, helps them actually win in 2021.
In any case, the highlights here are pretty straight-forward: (1) Contreras is available if there’s an offer the Cubs can’t turn down, (2) the Angels are interested in trading for him, even after adding Suzuki, (3) Angels manager Joe Maddon is a big fan of Contreras, and (4) unlike some other formerly rumored parties, the Angels actually have the pieces to pull a deal like this off.
I’d still really rather not see the Cubs trade Contreras – he’s really good and I like him a lot – but if they really believe in Miguel Amaya long-term and believe they can supplement the 2021 roster while ALSO improving for 2022 and beyond in one deal, then they’ll have to pursue it.