Today is the last day of May, which, as I joked in the Bullets this morning, means it’s the last day when trade talk is JUST WAY TOO EARLY MAN. Suddenly, tomorrow, trade rumors are back on the menu. I’m joking about there being some actual dividing line, of course …
Given the trajectory of this year’s Cubs team, they will be sellers come late July and early August (deadline is August 2 this year), and there is no Cubs player who will get more national attention than catcher Willson Contreras. You already know the situation: the Cubs and Contreras have never made any headway on extension talks, and with Contreras set to hit free agency after this season, the Cubs are going to explore his trade value. We saw it last year with guys like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Báez, and there is no reason to believe this year will be different with Contreras. Like it, lump it, love it, hate it. Just how it is.
But given how Contreras is playing this year – hitting .264/.387/.486/148 wRC+, posting some of the best contact quality of his career, and at a position where offense is always scarce – you can bet the Cubs will keep the asking price very high right up to the deadline.
The belief is that the Cubs are expected to spend again next winter following a season of mostly piecemeal signings. Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman were obviously exceptions. … Willson Contreras will be a popular trade target, and one exec predicts, “The Cubs will want an arm and a leg.”
It’s been pretty hard to project a trade return for Contreras, thanks to a combination of competing factors: starting catchers are harder to incorporate for maximum value on a new team at midseason; but Contreras is splitting time at DH and raking; but bat-only guys don’t generate much in trade; but with the DH now universal it seems like there could be so many theoretical buyers who could add him to their catching and DH mix; but positional rentals in general don’t get huge returns; but look at the big returns the Cubs got last year at the deadline for Rizzo/Bryant/Báez.
So, an “arm and a leg”? I could see it. Much less than that? Yeah, I could see that, too. (Gut says it’s probably closer to the former than the latter.)
Either way, my gut says this is probably more about seeds being planted publicly that, yes, the Cubs are going to listen on Contreras, but they’re not going to move him early unless the offer is massive – think MUCH more than any of last year’s deals.
To trade Contreras now, the Cubs are not only forgoing that teeny, tiny chance of an extension coming together over the next couple months, but they are also forgoing the possibility of the market going haywire in July due to injuries or ineffectiveness or surprising competitive runs. Sometimes the price tags go nuts at the deadline because of competition in the market. The flip side, of course, is that there could be an injury or downturn for Contreras, but I suspect Jed Hoyer is willing to take that risk in order to maximize the return.
None of this is particularly pleasant to think about in relation to a player a lot of us like so much. But, with the calendar about to flip to June, this is what’s coming. At least the Cubs are likely keeping the asking price very high for now.