The Seattle Mariners are looking to improve at several positions this offseason, and acquiring a reliable starting catcher should be near the top of the priority list. Willson Contreras, an All-Star catcher with the rebuilding Chicago Cubs, is widely thought to be available via trade this offseason and could be the best fit on the market.
Contreras, 29, is the last remaining star in Chicago after the Cubs shipped out studs Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez at the trade deadline after an underwhelming start to this past season. Contreras has a career OPS+ of 112 (where 100 is the league average at the position), and was an effective defensive catcher this season with a 3.5 Defensive Rating (DEF) from Fangraphs, where 0 is the league average at the position.
Willson Contreras would be a far better option at catcher for the Mariners next year than anyone currently on the roster.
The Mariners employed veteran Tom Murphy at catcher in 83 games this year, rookie Cal Raleigh in 36 games, and Luis Torrens in 32 games before he proved he was a defensive liability and transitioned into a full-time DH role. The inconsistency of all three players, both in the field and at the plate, has Seattle open to new options.
Murphy is a non-tender candidate this winter, but if Seattle decides to re-sign him, he’d likely be owed somewhere around $1.5 million. Sorry, but no thanks. Not for a guy that can’t make a play at the plate or execute situational hitting. Torrens, an offensive weapon, is a candidate to improve his defensive skills this offseason and enter Spring Training as the #1 catcher, but that possibility remains a massive question mark.
Regarding Raleigh – with the Mariners ready to compete for a playoff spot next year, I don’t feel comfortable depending on Cal Raleigh to be an everyday producer in the lineup during that push; he posted a .532 OPS with 52 strikeouts in 148 plate appearances this year. His defense is solid and he has offensive potential, and I certainly don’t think we should give up on him, but now isn’t the time to give him unlimited reps while he develops.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at a potential trade between the Mariners and Cubs that could bring Contreras to Seattle:
Here’s the kicker with Willson Contreras: he’s only under team control for one more season, before hitting free agency in 2023. So, with one season left of (mostly) guaranteed production, and coming off of a year where he finished 12th among MLB catchers with a 2.1 Fangraphs WAR – what is he worth?
In my opinion, not enough for the Mariners to part with any of their top 10 prospects. Seattle has the 2nd highest ranked farm system in baseball, with potential major league talent sprinkled all the way throughout their top 30, and the Cubs desperately need to replenish their 18th ranked prospect system (even after their busy trade deadline). Chicago’s biggest hole in their farm system is their lack of pitching depth, and fortunately for both parties, the Mariners have nine pitchers in their top 15.
Juan Then, a 21-year-old with electric stuff and currently ranked 14th in the Mariners’ farm system, could have a tough time reaching the majors in Seattle. He’s stuck behind seven other pitching prospects in Seattle’s system who are only a year or two away from the big leagues, and he holds a coveted spot on Seattle’s 40-man roster. Unless the Mariners are expecting him to make a big impact next year, he’s likely a valuable trade asset this offseason.
It’s unclear if Then projects better as a starter or reliever in the majors, so the Cubs may want some insurance for bolstering their future starting rotation. Sam Carlson, a 22-year-old bouncing back from Tommy John surgery, could also benefit from a change of scenery. He doesn’t project to factor into Seattle’s long-term starting rotation, but he has the talent to be a successful major league pitcher if given the opportunity.
I encourage the Mariners to take some time this winter to gauge Luis Torrens’s progress in his development as a catcher before making a loud trade, as I’d rather have a tandem of Raleigh and Torrens behind the plate for the next several years than bring on a temporary placeholder.
However, if Torrens’s future behind the plate looks bleak, I’m all in on sending a couple of mid-to-high level prospects to Chicago for Willson Contreras, who could make a massive impact on Seattle’s hopes for contention next season.