On Friday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals introduced their newest player and Yadier Molina's replacement behind the plate: Willson Contreras. The longtime backstop of the rival Chicago Cubs at the Winter Meetings earlier this week and the Cardinals rolled out the red carpet at Busch Stadium for his introductory press conference.
"First things first: No one could ever replace Yadier Molina. We all know that," Contreras wrote in a Players Tribune piece Thursday. "It's impossible. Actually, if there's some word that means even more than the word impossible ... that's what it is. Yadier Molina is a legend."
Contreras said Friday he first started to imagine himself as a Cardinal on Sept. 4, when he watched Albert Pujols swat his 695th career home run from the visiting dugout at Busch Stadium. Contreras was sidelined with an ankle injury at the time.
Contreras said he started imagining himself as a Cardinal the day he saw Albert Pujols hit his 695th homer. Said he was on the IL, watching from the bench, envisioning playing for a team with that kind of tradition and celebration.— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) December 9, 2022
Pujols' 695th homer was no ordinary homer.. Cardinals fans gave Pujols huge ovations every time he stepped to the plate in 2022, especially late in the season, and the crowd was electric when he hit No. 695.
Also, I know Contreras saying he envisioned "playing for a team with that kind of tradition and celebration" could be seen as a shot at the Cubs, but I wouldn't take it that way. Not everything is a shot at someone or has a hidden meaning. Contreras was part of Chicago's curse-breaking 2016 World Series team and you don't forget that. He also said he feels "lucky" to have been part of the Cubs organization for 13 years, and called it "an experience I'll never forget as long as I live."
Contreras, 31 in May, is a three-time All-Star (including 2022) who finished the season with a .243/.349/.466 batting line and 22 home runs. His defense behind the plate has rated as about average throughout his career. Contreras is essentially the opposite for Molina, who was a defense-player throughout his career.