The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t been shy in targeting some big names early on in free agency this offseason in an effort to propel themselves on a deep playoff run in the 2023 season. And on Wednesday morning, they managed to snag one of their top targets in veteran catcher Willson Contreras.
Contreras has solidified his status as one of the best catchers in the league over the past seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals recognized this, and opted to hand him a five-year, $87.5 million deal as a result. Contreras now is set to take over the Cardinals catcher position that had been held by Yadier Molina for the past 19 years.
Contreras has some big shoes to fill in replacing Molina, but expectations are going to be even higher as a result of this huge deal that he has received from the Cardinals. Some have questioned whether St. Louis made a mistake giving Contreras a five-year deal, but let’s take a look at three reasons why that isn’t the case and see why this deal will work out well for the Cardinals.
3. Willson Contreras has proven he’s a strong hitter
Finding consistent production from the catcher position is becoming harder and harder to do in the MLB nowadays. That’s part of the reason why Contreras was able to land such a big deal from the Cardinals. But given his production to begin his career, it’s hard to argue with the deal that Contreras has managed to land here.
In addition to his daily catching duties, Contreras has remained a strong hitter at the plate who should quickly slide in alongside Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to lead St. Louis’ lineup. Contreras has hit 20+ home runs in four of his seven seasons, although it is worth noting that one of the seasons he obviously didn’t hit 20 home runs in was the shortened 2020 campaign.
If Contreras can come in and hit 20+ home runs while hovering around a .250 average over the length of this deal, it will easily go down as a win for the Cardinals. Contreras hasn’t shown much regression in his game, and after all, he’s currently in the peak of his career. This deal should ensure that St. Louis won’t have to worry about the catcher position for the next five years.
2. Willson Contreras fills a huge position of need at catcher
That leads us to the next key point in that Contreras fills a huge need at the catcher position. St. Louis was one of the many teams looking for upgrades at the catcher position. So not only did they manage to land the grand prize of the catcher market here, but they also prevented every other team looking for help at catcher from landing the top available option.
The Cards won the National League Central in 2022 despite getting virtually no help from their catcher position all season long. Andrew Knizner and Molina platooned for the season, but neither did much better than the other. Knizner (.215 BA, 4 HR, 25 RBI, .601 OPS) was a little bit better than Molina (.214 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI, .535 OPS) but that was largely due to the fact that Molina drew just five walks last season.
With Molina retiring, the Cardinals didn’t want to fully hand the position over to Knizner, which makes a lot of sense. They had a huge need at the catcher position, which made signing Contreras a very worthwhile investment. And now that they have him onboard, they won’t have to worry about the position for the foreseeable future, which is a luxury not many other MLB clubs have.
1. Willson Contreras will likely remain productive throughout the length of his new deal
The length of Contreras’ deal is a bit concerning, as not many folks were expecting him to get a five year deal. But the Cardinals wanted Contreras badly, and they gave him something that other teams likely weren’t too interested in handing him, and that was a fifth year on the end of his deal.
The exact breakdown of the contract isn’t known yet, but there’s not really much of a reason to be concerned with this deal if you are the Cardinals. Contreras is right in the prime of his career (he turns 31 in May of next year) and will only be 35 years old by the time this deal ends. He may not be worth the deal by the time it ends, but it won’t look nearly as bad as some of the other contracts throughout the league.
Considering Contreras’ current rate of production, it’s fair to expect him to continue producing at a similar rate for the next three seasons or so before potentially dipping over the final year or two of this deal. He may not be the same player he is now in five years, but chances are he will still be better than most catchers in the league. And for that reason, signing Contreras to a five-year deal was the right call for St. Louis.