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Law: Cardinals find replacement Yadi in Willson Contreras

SAN DIEGO — The Cardinals tried to develop a number of future receiver candidates in the later years of Yadier Molina’s career, but instead opted to replace him through free agency, giving former Cub Willson Against a five-year term. , an $87.5 million deal that will fill the spot in a completely different way than Molina did.

Contreras is a first bat receiver, which is a big change from Molina, whose value over the past nine years has been almost entirely in his glove – he’s only had one season above the average at the plateau during this period. Contreras was one of the best offensive receivers in baseball last year, ranking only behind Adley Rutschman and Willson’s own brother William in wRC+ (minimum 300 AP). He makes a lot of very hard contacts, ranking third among catchers in hard hit percentage and posting the fastest exit speed for any catcher last year at 116.2 mph (which is more fun than meaningful information), which helps offset its high swing-and-miss rates.

He’s also reasonably patient for a catcher and gets hit by plenty of pitches; over the past five years, his OBP has been 50 points better than Molina’s, which would have been about 21 times more on base per 162 games than the Cardinals’ retired big. He’s not the cameraman Yadier was, nor the receiver, and we could probably argue all day about the value of Molina’s play call, but what we can measure says the Cardinals just added between three and 3.5 wins with a signing, which, to this AAV, seems like a bargain — one the Cubs probably should have matched.

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Cardinals sign Willson Contreras to a 5-year deal

There’s an age risk here, because catching is a brutal position, of course, and one of Yadi’s most prized traits was his ability to handle such a heavy workload until his final season – he caught at least 110 games at the age of 34. , 35, 36 and 38 seasons, missing the age of 37 due to the pandemic. The Contreras deal only takes him to 35, and it’s not that uncommon for catchers to still catch regularly at that age, but he also offers a bit of a takedown because his bat is valuable enough to play elsewhere. If he’s a part-time seeker and part-time DH in the final year of his contract, he’ll likely still be worth the roster spot and has a reasonable chance of producing enough to justify the payday.

I’m a little surprised that was all he got, because he’s a very good player, very athletic, and he was by far the best catching option available in free agency. Texas could have used it, although we can’t blame them for not making it through this winter. The Yankees could have used it. The Padres, Astros and Angels all have Majors-ready catch prospects, but Contreras would be a short-term upgrade from any of them. And the Cubs really don’t have anyone on hand to replace him.

Which brings us to Sean Murphy, the belle of the ball caught now that Contreras has signed. The A’s have made it clear that they are open to trade offers, but during my very brief time in the lobby at the winter meetings I heard that the asking price was quite high – as it probably should be. . Murphy was worth 3.5 rWAR / 5.1 fWAR last year, with the latter number almost giving him a complete win for framing. He also has three years of team control left, all with refereeing salaries, which will most likely underpay him relative to his output.

I would expect a return similar to what the A’s had for Matt Olson last offseason, although in this case there’s a bit more urgency to catch prospect Shea Langeliers as ready for the majors as he is. will be. I don’t want to encourage the takedown in Oakland, but for a dime, for a pound — if you’re going to throw out Chapman and Olson and Montas and Bassitt and others for prospects, it makes no sense to keep Murphy around. And, just to throw him out there, the Cubs have serious perspective depth from which to try to negotiate for him.

Option B for teams looking for catching help could be Toronto, although I’m not sure what the Blue Jays’ motivation is to move any of their three catching options right now. Gabriel Moreno is one of the best prospects for any position in the minors, and he’s already a good defenseman who should always be one of the majors’ best gloves behind the plate. Alejandro Kirk has caught more matches than anyone except Murphy last year and ranked fifth in wRC+ and seventh in fWAR among all catchers in 2022, despite his body not planning to age well long-term. And Danny Jansen is one of baseball’s best backup receivers, probably overwhelmed as a starter (especially with his injury history) but a good enough hitter to post the best wRC+ of any catcher who had 200 AP or more. last year.

The Jays could wait to see if Murphy makes it out of the board, but even now the market for one of their guys — Kirk would be my pick as the best to trade, despite his obvious popularity — should be very strong.

Finally, Iván Herrera is the forgotten man in all of this. Supposedly the Cardinals’ future catcher, and only 23 this coming season, he was supplanted by Contreras after just 18 big-league at-bats last year. Herrera hit .268/.374/.396 in Triple A last year with an 18.7% strikeout rate, though his swing flattened out last year and put the ball in too often on the ground, going from 17 home runs in 98 games in 2021 to just six in 65 games last year.

He makes enough hard contacts to be an ideal candidate for a team that successfully alters players’ swings to increase their launch angles, especially since his eye is strong and he’s an average defender right now. The Cardinals have other needs, like an outfielder with a floor above his 2023 production, and Herrera would be a valuable part of any trade they might want to draw.

(Photo: Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

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