If the Cubs decide to shop catcher Willson Contreras, a suitor for the two-time All-Star could emerge out west.
Sunday, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the Padres seek a starting catcher. Whether that leads them to Contreras is to be seen, but San Diego makes a ton of sense as a trade partner for the Cubs backstop.
Padres starter Austin Hedges (22 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019) is a superior defensive catcher to Contreras (-1), though the latter would be an offensive upgrade for San Diego. Contreras hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs last season, while Hedges hit .176/.252/.311 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs. Padres catchers combined to hit .212/.278/.349 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs.
The Padres hold one of the top farm systems in baseball, a group featuring five top 100 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. The Cubs have two top 100 prospects — infielder Nico Hoerner (No. 47) and catcher Miguel Amaya (No. 90) — but they need to replenish their system after years of making win-now trades and struggling to develop homegrown talent the past few seasons.
At last month’s GM Meetings, Padres general manager A.J. Preller admitted the organization is open to trading its prospects to help build a championship-contending team. Preller defended that notion last week by sending infielder Xavier Edwards (MLB Pipeline’s No. 72 prospect) to the Rays to acquire outfielder Tommy Pham.
"You get tied to these players," Preller said in November. "And you should. You envision each of these guys playing with the Padres, and you have history with them. But you've got to understand at the end of the day, it's about building a championship-level team at the big-league level.
“If you do it the right way, you have multiples at different spots. Not everybody is going to be able to play for the Padres."
Lefty starter Mackenzie Gore is San Diego’s No. 1 prospect (No. 4 overall in MLB), but he’ll be off limits in any trade talks. Behind Gore, the other Padres prospects in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list are:
-Outfielder Taylor Trammell (No. 28)
-Right-handed starter Luis Patino (No. 30)
-Shortstop CJ Abrams (No. 45)
-Catcher Luis Campusano (No. 86)
The Cubs are searching for a center field upgrade this offseason and have struggled to develop impact big-league starting pitching under Theo Epstein. After trading Edwards, the Padres may not want to deal more than one of the aforementioned four prospects in a single deal, but Trammell or Patino would be a major addition for the Cubs.
Trammell, 22, hit .234/.340/.349 in Double-A with the Reds and Padres in 2019. He projects as a corner outfielder but has the speed to play center. Patino posted a 2.57 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) in high-A and Double-A in 2019.
Adding any blue-chip prospects — regardless of position — should be the Cubs’ goal. Javier Báez is entrenched at shortstop, but if the Cubs were able to acquire Abrams, they can figure out how the 19-year-old fits defensively when the time comes. Abrams was the No. 6 overall draft pick last season and slashed .393/.436/.647 between rookie ball and low-A.
A Contreras trade could also include big league players. The Padres have 24-year-old catcher Francisco Mejía — .265/.316/.438, 8 homers, 22 RBIs, 0 DRS in 79 games last season — on their depth chart and he could be expendable in a Contreras trade.
The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to move Contreras. He’s under team control through 2022 and is only projected to make $4.5 million via arbitration in 2020. Plus. they don't get better in the immediate future by dealing him.
But if the Cubs look to move Contreras to replenish their farm system, the Padres make a ton of sense as trade partner.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.