Willson Contreras’s Arbitration Hearing is This Week – But the Trade Market Is Likely to Get More Attention
Willson Contreras is inarguably the top bat in baseball who is CLEARLY on the trade block this summer. Rage against it all you like, the reality is that Contreras will be traded at the deadline, absent a shocking extension at the last minute. Contreras’s arbitration hearing with the Cubs is happening this week, so if it were EVER going to happen, it would be now … but don’t bet on it. Even if someone gave you 100:1 odds, I would recommend keeping your dollar.
If Contreras is indeed traded, then, the persistent questions for the next couple months center on both where Contreras might go, and how much the Cubs might get in return.
Speaking to both of those topics, Mike Petriello wrote about Contreras at MLB.com:
Wrote about which teams might want to trade for Willson Contreras, but also just how rare it is historically to even see a top catcher traded in-season in the first place.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) June 6, 2022
Petriello got into an issue we’ve discussed before when it comes to trading a starting catcher at the deadline: it’s really hard for the acquiring team to get maximum value, and thus the price tag usually reflects it. Petriello, admittedly with some subjectivity, tried to come up with the whole list of “strong” starting catchers who were traded in-season … it’s not a lot!
After some eyeballing, this is the list of strong catchers traded in-season in the last half-century.
1986 – Ron Hassey – Yankees to White Sox
1998 – Mike Piazza – Dodgers to Marlins to Mets
2000 – Charles Johnson – Orioles to White Sox
2004 – Paul Lo Duca – Dodgers to Marlins
2009 – Víctor Martínez – Cleveland to Red Sox
2016 – Jonathan Lucroy – Brewers to Rangers
2018 – Wilson Ramos – Rays to Phillies
That’s … it. Seven times in more than 50 years – and we’re not even totally convinced that all of these belong to be included, anyway.
Why is it so rare? It’s not hard to understand. Primarily, it’s about the fact that if you have a good catcher, you’re very likely not looking to give him up. But there’s also the simple fact of the demands of the position, about it’s not just “standing in left field wearing a different color hat now,” but about having to learn an entirely new pitching staff.
Imagine, for example, Contreras going from the soft-tossing Cubs (who have the lowest fastball velocity in the Majors over the last three years) to the high-velocity, advanced pitching styles of the Dodgers or Yankees. It wouldn’t be easy, even for a highly-regarded defensive catcher. Contreras might have the best throwing arm of any backstop, but he’s one of 2022’s weakest framers, too. It’s not as simple as just slotting him behind the plate.
That all, then, pushes against the idea that the Cubs can get a haul for Contreras, despite his incredible season.
The flip side, though, is the scarcity. You know how many bats as good as Contreras’s will be available this year in a rental trade? Maybe none! You know how many of those bats will come with the ability to play catcher, a position notoriously difficult to find a good bat? That’s right, it logically still has to be none!
So as Petriello goes through the teams that could trade for Contreras, it’s not at all hard to see how much of an enormous upgrade Contreras could be for those teams, even if he were catching only three or four times a week (and otherwise DH’ing). That, then, pushes in favor of the idea that the Cubs can get a haul for Contreras.
This is why I keep coming back to this mystery spot when I try to project a realistic return for Contreras. I *tend* to think it could and should be in the range of the Cubs’ deadline deals last year for Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez, and Kris Bryant (which have all turned out really quite well, but necessarily came with risky returns at the time). But I could probably argue myself into thinking it’s unrealistic to expect that much … or thinking the Cubs should be able to get a lot more!
The Astros, Yankees, Padres, Giants, Mets, and Rays come in for particular discussion, and you can check out Petriello’s piece for the break down on each team as a fit for Contreras.