Willson Contreras was a rookie in 2016, when the Chicago Cubs snapped a 108-year World Series drought.
Six summers later, it feels like the star catcher's days on the North Side might be waning. Scheduled to become a free agent after the 2022 season, it doesn't necessarily make sense for a rebuilding Cubs team to sign Contreras, a 30-year-old catcher, to a long-term deal.
Rather than let Contreras walk in free agency this offseason, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer will likely trade the catcher to a contending team prior to the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
After Contreras makes his third career All-Star appearance later this month, expect his trade market to intensify. Here are five teams that could be potential fits for Contreras via trade:
Tampa Bay Rays
Don't look now, but the Rays have leapfrogged the Toronto Blue Jays and tied the Boston Red Sox for the top Wild Card spot in the American League. Perhaps the Rays will be content to stick with Francisco Mejía and wait for Mike Zunino to return from the injured list. But at least for an offensive standpoint, Contreras would be a massive upgrade over what the Rays have gotten from their catchers so far in 2022. He could also get some at-bats at DH for Kevin Cash and company. The Rays are certainly a situation where Contreras would be viewed as a rental.
San Francisco Giants
Gabe Kapler's Giants aren't on a 107-win pace again like last year, but they are still very much in the National League Wild Card race, even if a repeat as NL West Champions seems unlikely. Future Hall of Famer Buster Posey retired after a magical 2021 season, and former top prospect Joey Bart hasn't fulfilled his potential to this point. With Curt Casali now dealing with an oblique strain, the Giants feel like a team that would be an obvious fit for Contreras. This would mark the second consecutive year that the Giants and Cubs collaborated on a trade deadline deal, with former NL MVP Kris Bryant going from Chicago to San Francisco last July.
Even with the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball, the Guardians have hung around in the American League Central race, thanks in large part to All-Star caliber seasons from José Ramírez and Andrés Giménez. At 40-40, Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff may wait a couple weeks before deciding whether their current roster is worth making a major addition to. But if they are going to add before the deadline, it's hard to overstate how much of an upgrade Contreras would be over Austin Hedges, Luke Maile and Sandy Leon.
New York Mets
Like his former teammate Javier Báez was a year ago, Contreras would likely just be a rental with the Mets. But top prospect Francisco Álvarez is just 20 years old, and may need a bit more seasoning before he's ready to be an everyday catcher at the major league level. Make no mistake, the Mets need to upgrade from the duo of Tomás Nido and James McCann, and Contreras would give them that. Contreras would also join an NL East race where the Mets are trying to hold off the defending World Series Champion Atlanta Braves, who happen to employ his younger brother, William Contreras.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported last month that the Astros were an unlikely fit for Contreras, because the team is so high on how Martín Maldonado handles the pitching staff. Still, Maldonado is 35 and is slashing just .147/.222/.293 in 2022. It would seem naive to altogether rule James Click and the Astros out from at least seeing what it would cost to land Contreras.