Reports: Cardinals sign catcher Willson Contreras to five-year deal

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 11:31 AM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The Cardinals wanted to leave the Winter Meetings in San Diego with an answer to their catcher question.

According to reports Wednesday, they have accomplished that goal.

Multiple reports have stated that the Cardinals are in agreement with Willson Contreras on a five-year contract. Jeff Passan reported the deal is worth $87.5 million, which equates to an average of $17.5 million per season for the new franchise catcher.

The longtime catcher of the Chicago Cubs owns a lifetime OPS of .808 and produced an .815 OPS while slugging 22 home runs last season with Chicago. Contreras has a career on-base percentage of .349 and has cleared the 20-home run benchmark in four of his last five non-COVID-shortened seasons.

Though he wasn’t necessarily the most adept defensive option the Cardinals pursued this winter at the position, St. Louis ranked 28th in MLB last season in OPS from its catchers. Acquiring a catcher who also upgraded the lineup was clearly important to the team.

The terms of the contract fell in line with consensus expectations for the kind of contract the three-time All-Star Contreras would command. MLB Trade Rumors had projected Contreras for a four-year, $84 million deal. Though a fifth year tacked onto the deal is a somewhat questionable prospect when it comes to Contreras’ ability to handle the workload behind the plate into his mid-30s, it should be considered a positive that the Cardinals essentially got that added year without bloating the total financial outlay of the deal. Still, the Contreras contract is the largest free-agent deal the Cardinals have ever given to a player who had not previously played for the team, narrowly beating out the Dexter Fowler deal from a handful of years ago.

St. Louis reportedly circled the drain on a trade for Oakland’s Sean Murphy, a former Gold Glove catcher who isn’t scheduled to reach free agency until 2026. After news of significant momentum toward a Contreras deal spread Wednesday morning, it was reported that despite their strong interest in the 28-year-old backstop, the Cardinals’ ultimately considered the asking price on Murphy to have been too steep.

Judging the merits of that evaluation by John Mozeliak and Co. is difficult without knowing what Oakland wanted in exchange for Murphy. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Tuesday that the A’s sought big-league pieces rather than prospects in a potential Murphy swap. Taking the leap to assume the veracity of that report would imply touted prospects Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn weren’t the sticking points. The Cardinals, understandably, are loathe to include either in any deal.

Unless the information is leaked⁠—or Murphy is eventually traded elsewhere, providing a real-life trade package for comparison⁠—it will be hard to pin down precisely what the Athletics wanted that St. Louis refused to concede to them. But reports have swirled this week that the Cardinals have checked in on the free-agent shortstop market, with former Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson’s name floating to the surface as a potential option for St. Louis.

Following that link to its logical conclusion, it’s conceivable that the Cardinals would have looked to acquire a catcher like Murphy using its middle-infield surplus⁠—the team has Nolan Gorman, Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan in that group⁠—before turning around and committing to a shortstop in free agency.

But the Cardinals wanted to address the catcher position, first and foremost. Trading for one would have opened up other avenues in free agency. The Cardinals landing on Contreras, instead, could theoretically limit the team to more modest free-agent pursuits the rest of the winter. Still, redundancies in other areas of the roster could render the Cardinals active participants in the trade markets for the remainder of the off-season⁠—if they’re willing to loosen the vice grip on some of their controllable assets.