The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry may have gotten a bit more interesting. The top catcher on the free agent market, Willson Contreras, is off the board and headed to a division rival of his former team. The three-time All-Star and former World Series champion heads to St. Louis, to be the replacement for franchise icon Yadier Molina.
A Look at Contreras
Formerly a Chicago Cub, Willson Contreras heads down south to the Cubs’ premier rival. Called up in 2016, Contreras’ career started out quite strong in Chicago. Contreras batted. 282, and hit 12 home runs and 27 extra base hits over 76 regular season games for the World Champions that season. Since then, Contreras has been a steady performer. Over the past six seasons, Contreras had has four 20+ home run campaigns, and an above-average OPS+ in every season sans 2018. One weakness, though, that Contreras has is with chasing. By and large, Contreras has displayed below-average Chase and Chase Contact rates in each of his seven MLB seasons.
Nonetheless. Contreras is one of the best offensive threats among catchers in Major League Baseball. Now, the three-time All-Star heads to St. Louis to fill out a hole for the reigning NL Central champions.
What it Means for the Cardinals
Prior to inking Contreras, the Cardinals had just two catchers on its roster after the retirement of Yadier Molina: Andrew Knizner and prospect Ivan Herrera. Knizner is a former top prospect who at one point was considered to be a future starting backstop for St. Louis. But since his debut in June of 2019, the NC State product has hit just .204 and possesses a .580 OPS over 490 career at-bats. Ivan Herrera, one of the St. Louis’ top prospects, has accrued only 22 at-bats in his MLB career. All of those came during a brief stint this past season.
Rather than roll with a young Herrera, the Cardinals opted to sign a steady hand in Willson Contreras. St. Louis could have went the trade route, with Sean Murphy being on the trade block. Alternatively, St. Louis could have looked towards the Blue Jays, a team with three interesting backstops in Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, and top prospect Gabriel Moreno. At the end of the day, the Cards opted to go the free agency route and save some prospect currency. Plus, this is not a bad signing, by any means. The three-time All-Star has plenty of pop &amp; bat speed, an asset that will fit into a lineup that already has a lot of power in it.
Contreras joins a loaded infield that includes Tommy Edman, Nolan Arenado, and reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt. Those four, coupled with promising young bats in Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, and Nolan Gorman, should comprise a solid Cardinals lineup that can perform both at the dish and in the field.
It will, however, be interesting what else St. Louis will look to add before Opening Day. The Cards’ pitching staff is virtually set for 2023, as is most of the lineup. A shortstop pickup does make sense, but the Cards can very well opt to go with Edman again at short, and Gorman back at second base. The latter had 14 home runs in his rookie season, albeit with a less-than-stellar .226/.300/420 slash line. At 22 years old, though, Gorman still remains a key to St. Louis’ future.
The Cardinals’ path to a 12th World Series title in 2023 won’t be easy. The good news is that St. Louis does look to be the best team on paper in the NL Central.