It's time to recognize how underrated Willson Contreras' year was with the Cardinals

The Cardinals put Willson Contreras in a very difficult situation in 2023, and he proved them wrong with an elite second half. It's time to give him his flowers.
St. Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles
St. Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

The way the St. Louis Cardinals handled Willson Contreras, especially at the beginning of the 2023 season, was a masterclass in dysfunction for an organization that typically prides itself in professionalism and doing things "the right way". Because of this, many around the game of baseball began to think poorly of the contract Contreras was given, and yet, his production at the plate would tell a much different story.

Contreras slashed .264/.358/.467 with 20 HR and 67 RBI with a 127 wRC+, and if he had qualified for leaderboards, that wRC+ would've been 19th in all of baseball, and tied with Adley Rutschman for best among catchers.

When Contreras was being removed from his catcher duties, he was also struggling at the plate as well. It was definitely a slow start for Contreras to his Cardinal career, but from July 1st on, Contreras was a top-5 hitter in all of baseball.

From July 1st until the end of the season, Contreras slashed .339/.440/.619 (1.059 OPS), 12 HR, 36 RBI, and an insane 188 wRC+. Contreras was 88% above league average at the plate over the final three months of the season. I cannot overstate how incredible of an offensive performance that was.

No one is expecting Contreras to be that good over the course of the 2024 season, but posting a 125-135 wRC+ over the course of the season feels very realistic for the Cardinals' catcher. Contreras is a true middle-of-the-order bat for St. Louis and does so from a position that is historically weak offensively.

One of the biggest myths about Contreras is that "he's not worth his contract if he's not a catcher". Uh, that could not be further from the truth if he keeps hitting like this. Sure, his bat is even more valuable as a catcher, but even if he's the designated hitter in a lot of games, his bat was top-20 in baseball last year, and that's well worth $18 million a year.

Expect Contreras to continue to prove the doubters wrong in 2024, and he'll put himself right back into the conversation nationally as one of the most feared hitters in the game.