Yankees and Padres Reportedly Checked on Willson Contreras’s Availability

This post is about Willson Contreras and a report from Bruce Levine that the Yankees and Padres checked on Contreras’s availability in recent weeks. But to even get into that rumor, you kinda have to circle back to some bigger picture issues/questions about trades this time of year.

Even in a situation with a massively abbreviated (second) offseason, and a dramatically shortened Spring Training to follow, we’re getting close to that point where trades are going to become much less likely. In a normal year, two and a half weeks out from Opening Day, you’d probably say that’s about that, except for an extreme outlier deal. This year? Oh, I’d probably give it to this weekend before I’m gonna mentally conclude trade season is more or less over.

That said, when it comes to starting catchers, the calculus is always a little different. Yes, so much of what a catcher does is portable to any team at any time – still gotta receive well, throw well, run well, and, of course, hit well – but so much of it is specifically tied to his work with the pitching staff. The best catchers create so much value in ways we don’t even see, because they are constantly helping pitchers, before, after, and during starts. When a catcher knows his pitchers like the back of his hand, he can help the pitcher work some things out. He can help improve the pitch sequencing. He can figure out, on the fly during a game, what pitches Batter X is just not seeing well that day, and how those pitches match up to what Pitcher Y actually has working that day.

In other words, for your starting catcher, you want as much time as possible for him to work with your pitchers. Heck, back-up catchers, too. There’s a reason Yan Gomes has already played as much as he has this spring, I suspect, catching all the starting pitchers. You want to start to build at least some on-the-scene familiarity.

Connecting these two ideas, then, I say: it’s really unlikely we’d see a starting catcher trade at this point in Spring Training. I can’t rule it out because things have been so weird and compressed, and maybe desperation changes the equation. But, all else equal, it’s so hard to see a team wanting to bring in a starting catcher – and paying a huge price for it – on March 21 or later.

OK, now we can get back into Willson Contreras, and the rumor of the day.

The subject of a very specific set of reported plans before the lockout, the expectation had been that the Cubs would either extend or trade Contreras before this season began. It was like a 90% proposition one of those two things WOULD happen, given that Contreras is a free agent after this coming season. But nothing got done before the lockout (the Cubs reportedly didn’t even engage in extension negotiations, likely waiting for the organic arbitration talks that were coming). And then the lockout dragged on much longer than anyone was hoping. That confluence of events left me feeling like the 10% shot that neither an extension nor a trade would happen was now much a much larger number.

It makes sense to me that the Yankees (in the process of reshuffling their catching situation) and the Padres (long connected to Contreras and trying to upgrade their lineup in any way possible) would check in on Contreras, and they are probably not the only teams. I would be surprised if there were active talks still going on, though, based on the timeline remaining.

That said, it’s a maybe …

The Yankees, who sent starter Gary Sanchez to the Twins in a trade last week, were counting on part of the trade return – Ben Rortvedt – to be a key part of their catching rotation this year. But Rortvedt shortly thereafter started dealing with an oblique strain that at least raises the possibility that the Yankees could push for another catcher in trade, even at this late hour. And, to be honest, Rortvedt was hardly a sure thing before the injury. So maybe the Yankees are still in, and I suppose it remains worth monitoring for a few more days at least.

The Padres, who had clearly been looking to add a significant bat during Offseason Part Two, have been unable to make any big moves. They are also looking to dump the substantial salary attached to Eric Hosmer and/or Wil Myers, and the Cubs have been heavily connected there as a team with payroll space to go around and a desire to acquire prospects aplenty. So maybe there’s a version of a trade where the Padres send the Cubs a PREMIUM prospect package, Victor Caratini or Jorge Alfaro (they already have three catchers), and Eric Hosmer (with cash) to the Cubs for Contreras. There are versions of that trade that could make sense for both sides, but it’s sufficiently complex that you could never call it likely.

As for extension talks between the Cubs and Contreras, they still haven’t started. My guess is that the front office wants to get through this transaction period, completely, before turning their focus to extension discussions. The tricky part there, of course, is that you might want to know what kind of extension Contreras would be willing to sign BEFORE you traded him. I suspect the Cubs at least have a general idea of Contreras’s range, and are basically in a holding pattern: if they get bowled over by a trade offer in the next week, they’ll consider it. If not, they might take one crack at an extension before the season begins.

If you pressed me for a guess at this moment, I’d say a trade OR an extension are both unlikely at this point. The time to execute a trade is just so squeezed, and the will to pull off an extension, for whatever reason, just hasn’t seemed to be there (I suppose we’ll see if that changes imminently, with arbitration figures for 2022 to be exchanged tomorrow).

The most likely outcome now is that Contreras simply enters the season as the Cubs’ starting catcher, and everything gets re-evaluated in June/July, depending on the state of the team. (But be advised: the trade returns on starting catchers can be disappointing mid-year, for much of the same reasons laid out up top – teams know that with so little time to get that intimate familiarity with the pitchers, you might not get “full” value from that catcher.)

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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