The Houston Astros were so close to grabbing Willson Contreras at the trade deadline this past year. This offseason, will they make sure they don’t let him slip away again?
According to this article by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, “The Astros and Chicago Cubs were in agreement on a trade to send star catcher Willson Contreras to the Astros for starter Jose Urquidy.” However, both Astros owner Jim Crane and manager Dusty Baker disapproved the trade. No one knew anything about that trade until after the Astros won the World Series.
At the trade deadline, without Contreras as a possibility, the Astros still acquired a catcher in Christian Vazquez. However, as the starting catcher for the Boston Red Sox, he split time with incumbent Houston catcher Martin Maldonaldo. At the end, everything worked out well for the Astros because they didn’t give up a top prospect for Vazquez and won a World Series title.
Free agency is here and the MLB Winter Meetings begin on Sunday, so where do the Houston Astros go?
Your 2022 AL Cy Young pitcher, Justin Verlander, is opting out of his contract, Yuli Gurriel is a free agent, as is Vazquez. The Astros began the offseason needing to fill some important holes on the diamond, with the biggest being first base, designated hitter, and an outfielder.
The Astros already brought in a new first baseman, acquiring free agent Jose Abreu, so they addressed the first base position. Crane had also mentioned at Abreu’s press conference that “we’re not finished … we can improve a little bit more.”
Now rumors have been swirling about the Astros looking Contreras again. According to MLB insider Ken Rosenthal (subscription required), “The Astros are in discussions with free agent Willson Contreras and plan to meet with him at the winter meetings, according to a source briefed on the situation.” The plan is for him to be used as a “utility player,” meaning playing multiple positions like catcher, designated hitter, and … left field. Left field, you say? Yes, Contreras has played the outfield in his career, playing left field the most. In his seven-year career, he has played 39 games with 33 putouts, two outfield assists, and only making two errors.
When it comes to his primary position as a catcher, Contreras is one of the best in the league. When you compare Maldonaldo’s, Vazquez’s, and Contreras’s fielding percentages from last year, Maldy had the best with a .998, second-best was Contreras with a .994 fielding percentage, while Vazquez finished with a .991 fielding percentage. He’s still an exceptional catcher, and we know what the three-time All-Star and 2016 World Series Champion can do at the plate. He finished the 2022 season scorching the ball with slash numbers like .243/.349/.815 while launching 22 home runs and recording 55 RBI.
Would it be crazy to sign Contreras? Not at all. However, it would have to be at the right price and if he’s willing to split catching duties with Maldonaldo. The Astros already showed what they can do without a star hitting catcher by winning the World Series.
If the Houston Astros don’t sign Contreras, they can use that money to invest in a well-balanced, hitting outfielder, a utility player, and maybe another player. If they do sign Contreras, the lineup goes from powerful to dominant. Just projecting one through seven of the lineup under that scenario: Jose Altuve, Jeremy Pena, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Abreu, and then Contreras. That lineup would be unfair to pitch around, and it would have to be one of the best batting orders in franchise history.
If Contreras wants to win, just like Abreu said in his press conference, then Houston is the right spot for him.