Cubs

‘Multiple teams’ believe Cubs catcher Willson Contreras will be available for trade this winter

‘Multiple teams’ believe Cubs catcher Willson Contreras will be available for trade this winter

Multiple teams believe Cubs catcher Willson Contreras will be available in trade talks this winter, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Being available in trade talks doesn’t mean Contreras will be dealt, and Passan’s report didn’t definitively say the 27-year-old backstop is available. However, Cubs president Theo Epstein has said time and time again he doesn’t believe in untouchable players, and at his end-of-season presser, he said the Cubs are open to roster changes following a disappointing 84-win season.

“We’re open to change. We’re open-minded about this roster, and I expect to have a lot of trade discussions this winter,” Epstein said in September. “I think a lot of the players on this year’s team are gonna be part of the next Cubs championship team, so we want to be mindful of that.

“But it’s also really hard to accomplish improvement and change in certain areas unless you’re extremely open-minded. As we have in previous offseasons, we’re very likely to engage certain players in discussions about long-term contracts and see if there’s a way to extend player’s windows as Cubs that way. And if that’s not possible, that might make you open-minded about trades.”

The Cubs have discussed contract extensions with their core players under Epstein in the past. In May 2013, they signed Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year deal that bought out his arbitration years. This March, they re-signed Kyle Hendricks — who was set to hit free agency after the 2020 season — to a five-year deal.

Contreras is arbitration eligible through 2022 and is projected to make $4.5 million in 2020, a bargain for a two-time All-Star starting catcher. But if the Cubs determine he’s not open to signing an extension before hitting the open market in a few years, they’d be wise to do their due diligence on him.

Victor Caratini showed in 2019 that he’s capable of carrying a bigger workload behind the plate. He posted a .266/.348/.447 slash line in 95 games and provides the Cubs with a contact-oriented, professional at-bat. He also took over at Yu Darvish's personal catcher in a season where the latter excelled in the second half.

Caratini isn’t the offensive force that Contreras is, as the latter is a legitimate MVP candidate when healthy. Following a down second half in 2018, Contreras bounced back in 2019, posting a .272/.355/.533 slash line. And despite missing a month, he hit a career-high 24 home runs in 105 games.

Contreras would net a massive return in a trade. For the Cubs, then, getting a feel for the market would be a wise move.

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Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto