How Willson Contreras’ deal impacts Cardinals, MLB’s catcher market

SAN DIEGO — It took some time, however the first domino of a captivating offseason catching market has fallen. With the Yadier Molina period formally within the rearview, the St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to a five-year, $87.5 million take care of Willson Contreras, baseball’s high free-agent catcher. 

It’s not simply that the Cardinals are filling the footwear of a franchise legend in Molina with a participant whom their fan base has been rooting towards for the previous half-decade as one of many faces of the rival Chicago Cubs. Contreras additionally represents a big departure stylistically from the form of participant Molina was, particularly within the latter a part of his profession. Since debuting in 2016, Contreras has been probably the most constantly productive hitter on the catching place this aspect of JT Realmuto. Contreras’ 128 OPS+ in 2022 was a career-best, and a mark Molina final reached again in 2013. Signing Contreras doesn’t simply handle an apparent positional want, it additionally provides authentic thump to a lineup that lacked depth past the MVP-caliber seasons of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado and the outstanding final hurrah of Albert Pujols.  

Defensively, critiques of Contreras have been combined over time. His receiving, framing and blocking have fluctuated from below-average to strong, whereas his greatest asset behind the dish is a robust arm and fast launch. It’d be unfair to count on any catcher tasked with following Molina to stay as much as his legendary repute as one of many nice area generals in baseball historical past. Nonetheless, Contreras is a wonderful athlete for his place and there’s no purpose to assume he can’t enhance at a number of the extra delicate parts of catching along with his new group. Although Molina could also be retired, the usual and instance he set when it comes to game-planning and in-game changes might function a helpful template for Contreras to lean on in any efforts to enhance his defensive chops. 

In the end, St. Louis determined Contreras’ offensive affect comfortably offset any questions transferring ahead about his talents behind the plate, making him one of the best ways to handle the obvious gap on the roster. A longtime Cub in Cardinals threads might take some getting used to, however we gained’t have to start out serious about that till spring coaching. Extra broadly, this signing has important ramifications for the remainder of the catching market, each in free company and commerce within the coming days. 

Listed here are the largest questions sparked by Contreras coming off the board:

1. The place does Sean Murphy find yourself?

Recall that the baseball world arrived on the Winter Conferences firstly of the week to studies {that a} commerce of A’s catcher Sean Murphy was getting shut, suggesting that his time in Oakland was all however over. The Cardinals had been reportedly within the combine for Murphy however opted for Contreras as a substitute, leaving Murphy for groups like Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and now reportedly Arizona, to place collectively the absolute best package deal to entice Oakland into lastly pulling the set off. 

2. Does a Murphy commerce occur earlier than a Blue Jays catcher commerce?

With Contreras off the board, we might now be getting into one thing of a staring contest between Oakland and Toronto, as every membership appears to make sure they safe the best deal if they’ll commerce away a catcher. With Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno and Danny Jansen, the Blue Jays have a number of choices as to whom they might flip, and every of them has a special stage of enchantment relative to Murphy. We don’t understand how the groups pursuing catchers worth Murphy versus the Toronto catchers — we can’t assume that the identical groups are speaking to each Oakland and Toronto. On the identical time, your entire catching market is indisputably related and the sequence of transactions will affect one another it doesn’t matter what. 

3. How do the Astros pivot?

Contreras was reportedly one in all Houston’s high targets in free company, particularly following Justin Verlander’s take care of the Mets. Buying and selling throughout the AL West for Murphy could also be unlikely, so maybe we see the Astros get within the combine for one of many Blue Jays or flip to the subsequent tier of free-agent backstops … which incorporates who, precisely?

4. Who’s the subsequent free-agent catcher to signal?

Not like with the shortstops or the beginning pitching market, the place a number of elite choices had been/can be found, Contreras existed clearly in his personal tier amongst his positional friends. The subsequent group consists of the likes of Christian Vazquez, Omar Narvaez, Gary Sanchez and Mike Zunino. There’s one other slight drop after that to offense-first gamers like Jorge Alfaro and defensive specialists Austin Hedges, Roberto Perez and Tucker Barnhart. These are all helpful gamers however only a few of that are assured upgrades to the present starters on contending groups — that’s what makes Murphy so precious and engaging on this context, particularly with Contreras now not in play. 

The most recent studies point out that along with the oft-mentioned Guardians and Astros, the Crimson Sox and Twins are two different groups with postseason aspirations searching for a catcher. 

5. Will we see a catcher commerce or signing occur subsequent?

Groups at present within the combine for a catcher are seemingly weighing the acquisition prices for the subsequent tier of free brokers versus pursuing Murphy or one of many Jays trio. That is the place the sport of musical chairs actually comes into play. Groups that desire a catcher don’t wish to find yourself with out top-of-the-line choices accessible; groups that wish to transfer a catcher don’t wish to wait for his or her very best commerce companions to fill the place by way of different avenues. Do the A’s and Jays simply look forward to all the very best free-agent catchers to signal with the intention to extract extra prospect worth from a group that loses out on these choices? It’s a fragile dance, however the Contreras signing is certain to kickstart extra motion on the catcher market quickly.

Prime tales from FOX Sports activities:

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball author for FOX Sports activities. He has coated baseball for his complete grownup life, most notably for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He is a Mariners fan residing within the Japanese Time Zone, which implies he loves 10 p.m. first pitch. You’ll be able to observe him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.


Get extra from Main League Baseball Comply with your favorites to get details about video games, information and extra