The cold reality of the moment is that the Chicago Cubs are going to trade Willson Contreras before the August 2 Trade Deadline. Barring an injury, it is the reality we must face. And on the strength of that assumption about a trade definitely happening, all the matters is that the Cubs get the best possible return.
That means you want to have as many desperately interested teams as possible.
Despite their apparent reluctance, the Houston Astros still strike me as the best fit for Willson Contreras this month. The rumors say they refuse to displace their veteran, Martin Maldonado, because he’s so well respected in the clubhouse and such a good receiver. Fair enough. But the (briefly) former Cub is hitting .160/.234/.320 (59 wRC+), which makes him the 10th worst hitter in MLB (min. 200 PAs). Meanwhile, his backup, Jason Castro (15 wRC+) has been far, far worse.
Houston did just call up their No. 2 prospect, Korey Lee, but he had a 45 wRC+ in his first taste of Triple-A action last season and a 69 wRC+ there this year. Point being, for whatever his talents, he’s not going to be an offensive solution to their issues behind the plate. And if they don’t make a change, the Astros catching room (50 wRC+), will continue to be among the three worst in MLB.
At some point, the amount you could upgrade the offense more than outpaces any downgrade in receiving. The Astros should be interested.
But you know who might soon supplant them as the most obvious suitor? The New York Mets. Heck, maybe they already have.
The Mets’ catching tandem (50 wRC+) is tied with the Astros for the third worst offensive production in MLB, and now they’ve lost their starter, James McCann, to an oblique strain. And not necessarily for a short period of time: Manager Buck Showalter indicated it would definitely be longer than the minimum IL stay, and oblique strains are notoriously tricky for baseball players. This is going to be a month+ thing at a minimum.
The Mets do have the No. 2 overall prospect in MLB, catcher Francisco Alvarez, waiting in the wings, but he was only just promoted to Triple-A and I’m really not sure they’re calling up a 20-year-old rookie in late July (essentially direct from Double-A) to catch Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom during what I know they hope is a very serious World Series run. The risks to the Mets *and* to Alvarez’s development are just a bit too high. The Mets have basically said as much, themselves.
Point here being, the Mets were ALREADY an obvious Contreras suitor – frequently connected, too – but the need just became even clearer.
The Mets and Cubs also completed a trade at last year’s deadline (thanks for PCA!), as well as all those Kris Bryant talks, so they may already have a reasonably intimate understanding of each other’s preferences and priorities. That can help move these kinds of things along.
The Mets are very much in win-now-no-matter-what mode, and a veteran catcher (and the top bat on the market) like Willson Contreras just makes too much sense. Mets.com even implied that the McCann injury should “prompt general manager Billy Eppler” to more seriously pursue a catcher before the August 2 trade deadline.
Of course, the Tim Britton of The Athletic is still playing the “Oh no, they couldn’t possibly…” game, like much of the New York media has the past couple months:
I wrote back on June 1 that Contreras represented the single biggest offensive upgrade the Mets could make at the trade deadline. Even so, a deal between the two sides has seemed unlikely. When the Mets made a similar deal last summer for Báez, they had the added benefits of bringing in someone who was especially comfortable with double-play partner Lindor and a fit for the roster beyond the final two months. Those dynamics don’t exist with Contreras, and of course, the Mets have one fewer good prospect in the system after the Báez trade. (Were Contreras especially familiar with a couple of members of the pitching staff, why yes, this would be an aggressive pursuit.)
Sure, the Mets have a starting catcher on the IL who was entirely unproductive offensively when he was playing, but the NL All-Star starting catcher? He’s not FAMILIAR enough with our pitchers to bail us out of this obvious jam.
Sarcasm aside, I do understand the argument. It was one we made ourselves about the difficulties of integrating a catcher mid-season. But that argument loses a whole lot of bite when you’re current catcher is going to be out for 4-6 weeks and he wasn’t exactly productive in the meantime.
And, indeed, Britton concedes as much later on: “Still, McCann’s injury forces New York to again consider what kind of price it would be willing to pay for Contreras, in prospects and in run prevention, given the amount of time it would take him to adapt to a new pitching staff midseason.”
Oh, and that’s not all.
Unlike the Astros, who have the best DH in the league, the Mets DH duo (primarily J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith) is among the bottom-5 in MLB, slashing just .219/.298/.336 (87 wRC+) this season! Given how strong Contreras’ bat has been all year – and how often the Cubs have used him at DH to keep him fresh – this really seems like a more obvious fit than New York is willing to admit.
One final point. So far, there have been three teams most often connected to a trade for Willson Contreras this season: The Astros, Yankees, and Mets. Despite some understandable anti-trade arguments that can be made for all three, the Mets are missing one thing the Astros and Yankees have going for them: a huge lead.
The Yankees (61-25) are in first place by 14.0 games over the Red Sox. The Astros (56-29) have a 12.0-game lead over the Mariners. Both teams have a 99% chance of winning their division according to FanGraphs. But the Mets? They have a 1.5-game lead over the Braves in the NL East, and their division odds are currently at a coin flip (50/50).
Now is not the time for the Mets to pretend like they don’t need Willson Contreras. They need him, badly. And since it has become widely expected that the Cubs will be trading Contreras, here’s hoping they keep the Mets’ clear need in mind.