Would the Cardinals really trade for Willson Contreras and take away playing time from Yadier Molina?
Yes, Contreras currently plays for the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals’ archrival for more than a century. So what? He would make the team better.
Contreras is batting .258/.372/.471 with 14 homers, 37 RBI, 50 runs, and a 76:37 K:BB ratio in 349 PA. Yes, he strikes at a slightly higher rate than the current Cardinals catcher corps, but he does everything else significantly better. He offers power and patience, a wonderful blend from any hitter.
How about Contreras’ work behind the plate? He’s generally viewed as an acceptable catcher compared to St. Louis’ tradition of having very fine receivers, so there would be a drop-off in that regard. Okay, so the Redbirds could put in a defensive replacement at the end of games Contreras starts or simply tolerate a step down in glovework. The tradeoff for a much-improved stick would be worth it.
What about when Molina returns? He and Contreras could be in a job-share arrangement, similar to how Contreras’ brother, William Contreras, and Travis d’Arnaud have with the Atlanta Braves. All three of those catchers were All-Stars this season, so something is working well. Molina could get the majority of starts, especially as he and Adam Wainwright chase down the all-time starting battery record, with Contreras spending some time at designated hitter – again, like the Braves currently are doing with their duo.
Contreras is scheduled to be a free agent after the season, so the Cubs sending him to their National League Central division foes shouldn’t be a significant factor, since they wouldn’t have to see Contreras in the opposing dugout sporting a birds-on-the-bat uniform very many times – though the idea of the Cardinals trading for him and signing him to an extension is intriguing.
How about the acquisition cost? With Contreras likely to be just a two-month rental, the trade package required to bring him in wouldn’t be high. The North Siders are struggling to get performance from their first basemen this year, so Cardinals minor league first baseman/outfielder Alec Burleson could be an appealing option, with a low-minors pitcher added to the deal as a lottery ticket. Additionally, Contreras’ $9.625M salary this season is a bargain considering his performance.
The Cardinals have a strong offense now, but catcher has been a sinkhole all year long. It’s an obvious spot to improve, and it could be done fairly cheaply prospect-wise and financially. Get it done, St. Louis, and make the team’s playoff prospects that much better.