The Chicago Cubs have a lot of thinking to do during this season and during the upcoming offseason regarding who to pay/trade. However, if there is one thing they should not hesitate to do, it is work on a Willson Contreras extension. Since his debut in 2016, Contreras has been one of the best catchers in all of baseball and despite being close to his 29th birthday, the Cubs would be unwise to let him walk or trade him.
The Chicago Cubs need to keep Willson Contreras for a variety of reasons.
First of all, the catcher is one of the weaker positions in baseball in terms of depth around the league so losing a top-tier catcher in his prime would be a monumental mistake.
Second, the stats back up the claim that he is a top-tier catcher. Since his debut, Contreras is tied for 1st among catchers with a 117 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created), ranks 7th in fWAR (Fangraphs WAR), and ranks 2nd in OPS.
Defensively, he is not spectacular but his arm is fantastic as he throws out 31% of would-be base stealers, which during his career is 4% above league average, as well as being 3rd in quickest pop-time to second base in 2019, (pop-time is the time it takes the ball to get from the catcher to the fielder on an attempt to throw a base stealer out).
His defense is not spectacular but he has improved his defense a lot despite having a ways to go. Last season, he was actually one of the better pitch framers in baseball, being 9th in strike rate, with 51.3% of the pitches he caught being strikes, 3% above league average last year. Still, the 28-year-old has a long way to go as this year he’s struggled.
The concern with paying a catcher big money is that catchers are fragile. Joe Mauer is a prime example of this. There are also outliers like Yadier Molina and J.T. Realmuto who have generally been healthy, especially Molina.
Looking at Contreras, he has played 513 games (including this season) since his debut on June 17th, 2016. When looking at each full season he has played (2017-2020), he has played 417 games and missed 129. Not too terrible for a catcher. The question now is how much he will want and the best comparison would be Salvador Perez because both are/would be 30 at the start of their extensions.
Perez got 4/$82,000,000, and it would be hard to imagine Contreras asking for less than that. He is a more agile and consistent hitter than Perez who has recently had a major injury, causing him to miss an entire season. Contreras could garner roughly $100,000,000 or more, depending on how long the Cubs wait, and how much he adds to his value.
Nonetheless, Contreras has been a fan-favorite since he was called up, especially hitting a homer off the first pitch he saw in the majors. Willy brings a ton of energy and passion to the Cubs and he should be given the chance to stick around in Cubbie blue for a long, long time.