The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed on a five-year deal worth $87.5 million with free-agent catcher Willson Contreras, ESPN's Jeff Passan reports. Contreras will succeed Yadier Molina, who retired this offseason, as the Cardinals' starting backstop.
Contreras, 30 years old, is a three-time All-Star and one of the best hitting backstops in the majors. Last season, he hit .243/.349/.466 (128 OPS+) with 22 home runs. Cardinals catchers, for comparison, batted .209/.261/.291 with nine home runs. Of course, the key matter for Contreras will be his defensive ability, something that's likely to be spotlighted given who he replaces behind the dish.
The book on Contreras remains largely the same, but this winter may prompt the printing of a new afterword depending on his next contract. He's still one of the best hitting catchers in the business. He reaffirmed as much with a big season that saw him slice into his strikeout rate while launching 22 home runs in 113 games. Contreras is still backpick-obsessed behind the plate, too, as he gleefully threw behind runners 48 times last season, or more than the second- and third-place finishers combined. And yes, he's still a substandard framer, albeit better than he used to be. The last part is crucial since teams put a lot of weight in framing, and justifiably so. How many clubs will overlook Contreras' deficiencies in that area to add him to their lineup? And will anyone attempt to lure him to town by asking him to play a different position? You'd think "several" and "nope," in that order, based on an otherwise weak catching crop. Again, though, that's where the intrigue lies here, and we won't know for sure until we know for sure.
Contreras was the top available free-agent backstop. That distinction now goes to Christian Vázquez, who has drawn interest from Contreras' former team, the Chicago Cubs, among others. The Cardinals had also been tied, along with a handful of contenders, to Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy -- one of the top players on the trading block.