Free agents could be reluctant to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals after the Willson Contreras situation went awry.
The St. Louis Cardinals, formerly one of baseball's most attractive franchises for free agents, have seen their reputation spiral in recent years after Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton spurned the team's offers, but the team's removal of Willson Contreras from behind the plate and subsequent scapegoating of him is likely the biggest torpedo yet to the Cardinals' future attempts to lure free agents to the team.
The way the Cardinals have approached the Contreras situation is extremely questionable: Instead of putting any blame on the pitchers not executing their pitches, the front office has decided to publicly call out Contreras' preparation and ability to call a game. Contreras has been the exact player the Cardinals should have expected him to be. The book was out on how the 30-year-old catcher performed defensively, but the front office was somehow left agape by him not being a copy of Yadier Molina.
The Cardinals' treatment of Contreras won't go unnoticed by free agents receiving offers to play in St. Louis. It certainly hasn't been lost on Contreras, who was unaware of his displacement from the catcher position until Tres Barrera arrived in the major league dugout. Free agents have every reason to be wary of how the Cardinals will view them and what the team will do to them if they don't fit the Cardinals' idea of what that player will be.
This isn't the first time the Cardinals have blamed a player for not being what they expected.
In 2018, the Cardinals placed Dexter Fowler in right field, but they didn't play him deeply in the outfield the way the Cubs did, leading to management blaming him for his defense instead of reflecting on the possibility that he wasn't being utilized correctly.
Additionally, John Mozeliak made pointed comments on Fowler's supposed lack of effort and hustle, and while the situation with Contreras is different in that Fowler was underperforming offensively at the time, the front office's decision to single him out during a teamwide slump raised eyebrows, especially as Fowler had just returned from paternity leave and already had a frayed relationship with then-manager Mike Matheny.
Contreras appears to be headed down the Fowler route in his satisfaction with the Cardinals' brass; he has already removed his picture of himself in a Cardinals uniform from his Instagram page. No player wants to be a part of a toxic dugout, and there's no question that players throughout the league talk to each other about their teams' clubhouse culture.
Contreras will be returning to Wrigley Field for the first time since he left Chicago, and he will likely receive a warm reception, especially after the way the Cardinals have handled him. If Contreras is the next player to sign with the Cardinals and regret it because of the front office's missteps, more free agents will be crossing St. Louis off their lists of destinations.