With Juan Soto rumors sucking all the oxygen out of the room, we haven’t discussed Willson Contreras much lately. The Cubs’ 3x all-star catcher is still much more likely to be traded than not, but the most of the oft-mentioned suitors have had their brakes pumped at one point or another: The Yankees purportedly don’t want to displace their catching tandem given the success of their rotation, ditto the Astros (who also have DH shored up), the Mets still make sense but they’re maybe focusing on Soto, and the same goes for the Padres, who are considered by some the front-runners for Soto.
One team that hasn’t quite crept its way into the rumors yet, but could make sense, is the San Francisco Giants. Keith Law speculated about the possibility on his Athletic podcast, making a pretty interesting case.
In short, the Giants, who have just over a 50% chance of reaching the postseason according to FanGraphs, could actually use a high-quality, everyday position player more than the sure-fire contenders. In other words, with more ground to make up in their playoff race, Contreras could have more of an impact for San Fran than he would for some of the other teams across the league (though I’d argue the Mets are the still best overall fit, even in that respect).
An even more interesting wrinkle, however, comes in the return Law discussed: the possibility of getting young Giants catcher Joey Bart as part of the return (the conversation indicated it would be Bart *and* someone else, but they don’t get into that part).
Bart, 25, was the second overall pick in the 2018 draft and a top-100 prospect as recently as this season. But he hasn’t quite put it together for the Giants, who, again, need impact right now. Bart has hit .185/.307/.361/96 wRC+ with an alarming 43.6%(!) strikeout rate.
Law believes Bart is a prime change-of-scenery candidate, as a guy who may have struggled under the spotlight of being heralded as the heir apparent to Buster Posey.
This is not necessarily the sort of return we had in mind for Contreras, but if the Cubs do want to shoot for competitiveness next season – and are willing to deal with the offensive setbacks Bart has endured at the MLB level – then he could be a really interesting buy-low candidate.
For one, he rates well defensively. And if the Cubs are already planning to go the defensive backstop route next season, you might as well do it with a young, cheap catcher with plenty of offensive upside remaining. Maybe this is especially true if you’re pairing Bart with someone like Yan Gomes, who can help guide him.
For another thing, Bart is not a free agent until 2028. When you throw in the fact that catchers tend to develop offensively later in their careers, and the fact that the Cubs have had some big league development wins lately with older guys, well, you could see the bones of something that might work well for both sides.
Not that we can glide over the offensive issues. They became so overwhelming this season that Bart was actually demoted back to Triple-A for a brief stint in mid-June. Bart has two doubles, two homers, and a 152 wRC+ in a very small sample since returning from the minors, but the strikeout rate is still enormous, even over that stretch (37.5%). For the season, Bart’s 43.6% strikeout rate ranks second highest among all hitters with at least 140 PAs.
But again, the Cubs did have a ton of success decreasing the elevated strikeout rates of Patrick Wisdom, Willson Contreras, and Ian Happ over the last season. Maybe they believe they could have similar success with Bart while filling a position of (soon-to-be) need. If you’re also able to snag an interesting prospect in the deal, it’s all the better.
There’s also the fact that the Cubs and Giants just worked together last year on a trade (Kris Bryant for Caleb Kilian and Alexander Canario), and their GM, Scott Harris, is a former Cubs front office exec. Sometimes that helps get a trade over the finish line.
In the end, this is all entirely speculative, and I suspect the Cubs will still go the route of true prospects in a return for Willson Contreras. But the Cubs did try to get major league ready pieces for Craig Kimbrel last deadline, and if they weren’t scared off by the results of that deal, who knows … maybe they’ll try it again.