Multiple teams in search of catching help believe Cubs catcher Willson Contreras will be available this winter. The Cubs will get creative this winter, and with a deep catching free agent market, they could trade Contreras and begin retooling under new manager David Ross.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 8, 2019
Being available in trade talks doesn't mean Contreras will be dealt, and Passan's report didn't definitively say the 27-year-old backstop is available. However, Cubs president Theo Epstein has said time and time again he doesn't believe in untouchable players, and at his end-of-season presser, he said the Cubs are open to roster changes following a disappointing 84-win season.
"We're open to change. We're open-minded about this roster, and I expect to have a lot of trade discussions this winter," Epstein said in September. "I think a lot of the players on this year's team are gonna be part of the next Cubs championship team, so we want to be mindful of that.
"But it's also really hard to accomplish improvement and change in certain areas unless you're extremely open-minded. As we have in previous offseasons, we're very likely to engage certain players in discussions about long-term contracts and see if there's a way to extend player's windows as Cubs that way. And if that's not possible, that might make you open-minded about trades."
The Cubs have discussed contract extensions with their core players under Epstein in the past. In May 2013, they signed Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year deal that bought out his arbitration years. This March, they re-signed Kyle Hendricks - who was set to hit free agency after the 2020 season - to a five-year deal.
Contreras is arbitration eligible through 2022 and is projected to make $4.5 million in 2020, a bargain for a two-time All-Star starting catcher. But if the Cubs determine he's not open to signing an extension before hitting the open market in a few years, they'd be wise to do their due diligence on him.
Victor Caratini showed in 2019 that he's capable of carrying a bigger workload behind the plate. He posted a .266/.348/.447 slash line in 95 games and provides the Cubs with a contact-oriented, professional at-bat. He also took over at Yu Darvish's personal catcher in a season where the latter excelled in the second half.
Caratini isn't the offensive force that Contreras is, as the latter is a legitimate MVP candidate when healthy. Following a down second half in 2018, Contreras bounced back in 2019, posting a .272/.355/.533 slash line. And despite missing a month, he hit a career-high 24 home runs in 105 games.
Contreras would net a massive return in a trade. For the Cubs, then, getting a feel for the market would be a wise move.