Lukewarm Stove: What's the Plan for Contreras? Impact of a Judge Extension, a Story Opportunity, More

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Lukewarm Stove: What’s the Plan for Contreras? Impact of a Judge Extension, a Story Opportunity, More

Chicago Cubs

Saturday is going to be one of the most pivotal days of the lockout so far. Let’s hope the owners’ offer is something the players can run with. Here’s the latest from the rumor mill …

Judge Extension Impact

If you haven’t seen it yet, Jayston Stark and Ken Rosenthal have a great piece over at The Athletic detailing the madness that awaits us at the end of the lockout – with some very notable specifics on a few key players. For example, Aaron Judge is listed as the player most likely to sign an extension when the lockout ends, which we know has all sorts of implications on the Yankees efforts to sign other big-money positional free agents like Freddie Freeman and/or Carlos Correa (which, in turn, could impact the Cubs interest in Anthony Rizzo or Correa, himself).

In short, if the Yankees extend Judge, they’ll be far less likely to offer Freeman the sort of deal that could pry him away from Atlanta, making the more affordable Anthony Rizzo a more attractive option. And there’s been mutual interest reported there already this offseason. And if the Yankees are showing interest in Rizzo, the chances the Cubs cash in on those internal reunion conversations will drop dramatically (the Cubs interest seems to be almost purely opportunistic). On the flip side, a completed extension for Judge ALSO makes a pursuit of Correa even less likely for the Yankees, who are one of the suitors most often mentioned alongside the Cubs.

What’s the Plan for Contreras?

Setting all that aside for a moment, I noticed one name that wasn’t mentioned in that potential extension group (which also features Jacob deGrom, Shohei Ohtani, and Dansby Swanson at various levels of likelihood) is Cubs catcher Willson Contreras.

Where Contreras is mentioned, however, is the potential trade section*. The Athletic piece notes that every one of these names, including Contreras, “was heavily discussed in trade conversations before the offseason was so rudely interrupted by that lockout stop sign.” Not sure we knew that there were “heavy” trade discussions on Contreras before the lockout.

*Matt Olson, Sony Gray, Craig Kimbrel, Willson Contreras, and Kevin Kiermaier

In case you forgot, the early rumor of the offseason was that Contreras was going to be either traded or extended this offseason., but everything got so mucked up by late November that it’s not clear yet how the lockout and the additions of Marcus Stroman, Wade Miley, and Yan Gomes will change the Cubs thinking. If the ultimatum holds, The Athletic’s reporting group seems to be leaning more towards an exit than an extension.

Frankly, there might not be enough time for either a trade or an extension to get done before the season starts, and I can now see Contreras entering the season as simply the Cubs’ starting catcher in his walk year. They took it to the brink with Bryant-Rizzo-Báez last year, and although it’s more difficult to trade a catcher mid-season, it’s not hard to imagine the wait-and-see approach happening again in 2022. I don’t love it, but that’s probably where things are.

A Potential Trevor Story Opportunity?

According to Patrick Saunders (Denver Post), free agent Trevor Story does *not* want to move off shortstop for whichever team signs him this offseason. That, of course, has become a topic of conversation after some arm trouble brought Story’s shortstop defense into question.

So what’s the purpose of bringing it up here? Well, the Cubs remain largely unconnected to Story this winter, despite their needs at shortstop, but I do wonder if he’s approaching a point where a short-term deal to rebuild value won’t actually be the better route for him. And in that case, the Cubs could be the type of team best able to promise him (1) the keys to his preferred position from Day 1, and (2) a high-AAV, short-term contract (and we may see even more short-term deals than usual after the lockout).

Remember, Story arguably needs to rebuild his defensive value at shortstop *and* prove that last year’s offensive dip (100 wRC+) was little more than a blip on the radar. Heck, he also has to show that he can hack it away from Coors Field in general if he wants to cash in big.

There’s a lot to gain for him on the right short-term deal. And he could accomplish all of the above in Chicago (and if things don’t work out for the Cubs in the first-half, a mid-season trade to a contender wouldn’t hurt his exposure either). After that, he could re-enter a very light free agent market next winter as a 30-year-old shortstop and potentially also one of the better hitters on the market. If it all goes right, I guess.

The big caveat is that the value of the signing would have to outweigh the draft pick compensation associated with signing Story, who rejected a Qualifying Offer (second round pick, that bonus pool money, and $500K in IFA pool space). It’s conceivable, but it’d have to be quite a bargain.

I don’t actually see things playing out this way for any number of reasons (including the fact that the Cubs likely want to max out for defense at shortstop, and returning to the Rockies could be a safer, more lucrative route for Story on a one-year deal), but it does have the smell of a real opportunity for Chicago if Story is *dead set* on playing shortstop somewhere outside of Colorado, where he can check off a lot of boxes. Just something to keep in the back of the noggin’.

Odds and Ends

•   Jim Bowden takes some guesses at the first move for each team coming out of the lockout and for the Cubs it’s … signing right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda to a one-year, $10M deal? Pineda is generally a useful, innings-eating pitcher when he’s healthy (which he hasn’t really been consistently), but he’s another soft-tossing command/control/contact-managing guy, which is not really something the Cubs need to prioritize at the moment. There is an argument to be made that he could be an ideal flip candidate – and you can hand his second-half innings to that string of younger guys you’d rather see after the deadline (Caleb Kilian, Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, etc.) – but I think the Cubs should probably spend less *and* aim higher on a final (high-risk) upside play with some velocity for the rotation. They can afford to take the risk.

•   Oh, and Bowden sees the Cardinals signing Kyle Schwarber to be their DH, which, no thank you. Please.

•   The post-lockout market might be pretty wild, with guys taking one-year deals just to push any concern down the road.

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Author: Michael Cerami

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