Cardinals sign Contreras to five year deal

FILE - Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras heads back to the dugout during the team's...
FILE - Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras heads back to the dugout during the team's baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 25, 2022, in Chicago.(Charles Rex Arbogast | AP)
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 11:37 AM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Ill. (WGEM) - The St. Louis Cardinals made a major catch Wednesday.

Filling a need at catcher for the first time since 2004, the team waded into the deep waters of free agency and agreed to a five-year, $87.5 million contract with three-time All-Star Willson Contreras, the largest free agent contract the Cardinals have ever given to a player who wasn’t already with the team.

The deal will be finalized in the coming days after Contreras, 30, passes a physical. The contract reportedly includes a no-trade clause.

“Ultra-competitor who cares about the team, fights for the team, and isn’t going to pass up a chance to do all he can for his team,” said Chicago Cubs manager David Ross said outside a meeting for managers at baseball’s Winter Meetings in San Diego. “He’s got the winning bug.”

Ross would know.

Contreras made his debut with Chicago in 2016 and paired with the veteran Ross as the team’s catchers during the World Series championship season. The younger Contreras started five of the seven games, including the crucial game 6 and 7 in Cleveland.

“There is nothing that he’s going to see that he hasn’t already seen or done on the biggest stage,” said Ross, who has managed Contreras the past few seasons. “He hates to fail. He’s driven to win. He does all he can for those things.”

The Contreras signing fills the Cardinals’ top offseason priority as identified by General Manager John Mozeliak by giving them a solid replacement at catcher after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina, who was the starting catcher for the past 19 seasons.

While not quite at Molina’s Gold Glove level defensively and calling pitches (who is?), Contreras is better than advertised with the glove and provides a much bigger bat. Manager Oli Marmol has the new catcher penciled in at fifth in the batting order, offering protection to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado at the third and cleanup spots.

The Cardinals’ offensive output from the catching position ranked dead last in the MLB the last two years so the signing of Contreras is an immediate upside and addressed the major need.

Last season, Contreras hit .243 with 22 home runs and 55 RBI and had a Wins Above Replacement of 3.9. For his seven-year career, Contreras has. WAR of 20.8.

The deal with Contreras, who was signed away from the Central Division rival Chicago Cubs who seemed to have no interest in re-signing him, will cost the Cardinals their second highest pick in the 2023 draft and cost them $500,000 from their international spending budget.

Since 2016, the Cardinals have gotten an up close look at Contreras. Cardinals management had several meetings with Contreras and his agents and liked what they heard. At the same time, the team was in talks with Oakland about Gold Glove catcher Sean Murphy and Toronto about one of its three young catchers but found the asking price to steep.

So Wednesday afternoon, Mozeliak pivoted back to Contreras and reached an agreement of the five-year deal. Contreras is expected to catch between 100 and 110 games and be the designated hitter in others. He’s also spent some time in left field and first base.

That leaves Andrew Knizner as the backup catcher with prospect Ivan Herrera set to start at Class AAA Memphis or possibly used in a trade to fill another need.

In doing their due diligence on adding Contreras, who idolized Molina, the Cardinals received strong endorsements from Molina himself as well as former Cubs teammate Jon Lester, who pitched the second half of 2021 for the Cardinals before retiring.

The Contreras signing also most likely takes the Cardinals out of the picture for free agent shortstop Dansby Swanson as they will turn to fill other needs like adding a possible starting pitcher, a power reliever and an outfielder.

But for now, the Cardinals filled their No. 1 offseason need.

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