What has so far been a quiet offseason for the Miami Marlins may be heating up very soon. On Tuesday, Craig Mish of the Swings and Mishes podcast reported that the Marlins have expressed interest in Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. The Cubs have entered a rebuild phase as they let outfielder Kyle Schwarber walk earlier this offseason and shipped ace Yu Darvish to San Diego for a package of prospects, and it seems Contreras will be the next piece on the move.
Miami clearly with Chicago talks peaking interest on Willson Contreras. To get Contreras, Cubs would certainly like to go young and Miami has those assets. Still this is all very fluid and the Cubs have big decisions to make across the board.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) January 12, 2021
The Marlins’ interest in him should come as no surprise—they’re in need of a bat to add to their offense and Contreras brings great offensive value at a position where it is often hard to come by. Contreras is a career .265/.351/.463/.814 hitter with a 116 wRC+ and a 9.9 WAR that shows above average plate discipline as displayed by his 9.6 career BB% and 23.6 career K%.
MLB Network’s “The Shredder” just ranked Contreras as the No. 4 catcher in Major League Baseball. Fans currently rank him No. 5.
Not only is Contreras a very good hitter (he’s never had a wRC+ under 100 in his career), the Marlins have a major hole in their organization at catcher right now. There are a ton of questions around Jorge Alfaro’s offensive production due to his strikeout tendencies, and there is barely anything behind Alfaro in terms of prospects in the system. The other catcher on the Marlins 40-man roster is Chad Wallach, a career .209/.282/.318/.600 hitter that has posted a 66 wRC+ in just 165 career plate appearances.
The Marlins catching depth gets even thinner below the MLB level. The club signed Sandy León and his 61 career wRC+ this offseason. Solid veteran presence, but there isn’t much upside heading into his age-32 season. Will Banfield is the Marlins only catcher in their Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Banfield was the 69th overall pick in the 2018 draft and is a tremendous defender behind the plate, but his offensive prowess draws serious question marks. Banfield slashed just .199/.252/.310/.562 in 101 games in Low-A in 2019, good for just a 63 wRC+.
Don’t run on the kid @will_banfield showing that elite pop #MarlinsFutures pic.twitter.com/nFZrjFN7l4— Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty) March 25, 2019
For what it’s worth, Miami’s player development staff is encouraged by how he progressed this summer at the alternate training site in Jupiter.
This lack of depth at this position for the Marlins makes Contreras a prime trade candidate for the Marlins as they look to upgrade their offense and build on last season’s playoff appearance. Contreras should drive a pretty high price as he has two years of control, including this coming season, is one of the best at his position, and is a big piece of the Cubs. However, it may cost the Marlins in a different way, as the Cubs set a precedent of investing in younger, toolsy project type players. Let’s take a look at 3 proposals: one that would favor the Cubs, one that would favor the Marlins, and one that would make a good deal for both.
Marlins trade OF Corey Dickerson, SP Edward Cabrera, OF Peyton Burdick, and SS Nasim Nuñez for C Willson Contreras and 3B Kris Bryant
This deal is highly unlikely, but it’s certainly a fun scenario to explore. The Cubs are clearly looking to shed salary and no player is eating up more of it right now than Bryant on their payroll. Bryant will be a free agent after this season and it’s becoming harder and harder to see him staying in Chicago long term, despite him expressing that he wants to spend his career there.
Bryant is a Scott Boras client which will always drive the price up, and despite his struggles in 2020 is still a tremendous talent at a premier position. Getting rid of Bryant would shed a ton of salary for the Cubs and would also force the Marlins to up the return, which is why a top prospect like Edward Cabrera enters this deal.
While Cabrera is closer to the bigs than the type of prospects the Cubs have been stashing this offseason, he is a premier talent that could be the beginning of a new core for the club. Burdick is 23 but has a ton of upside and is still a couple years away. Nuñez is where this Cubs strategy really comes into play—he is a 20-year-old middle infielder that is toolsy, athletic and projectable, traits the Cubs have been seeking out in trades so far.
For the Marlins, adding Bryant to the deal gives you a long-term option at 3rd base. New GM Kim Ng held off on committing to Brian Anderson long term this offseason, and this trade would see him move back to right field as Bryant would take over as the everyday 3rd baseman. It would plug the hole in right field, but it might not be a long term answer and also might make Anderson unhappy and less likely to extend. The Fish would also take on a big chunk of salary that they may not be willing to commit to at this point in Bryant.
This is where Dickerson comes in as it would allow Miami to send some money (he’ll earn $9.5M in 2021) back to Chicago. However, moving on from Dickerson removes a big bat from the lineup, and opens back up the need for a corner outfielder, but this time in left field. The Marlins have high hopes that a full season of Dickerson will be big for the offense, so moving on from him is unlikely and wouldn’t be a great move for them.
The Marlins would also be giving up on a top prospect and two others that show a ton of potential and the organization is very high on. This would be a pretty win now move from a team that isn’t really in a position to make one like this yet. I would try and avoid as big a deal as this one if I were in the front office, but it would certainly energize a fanbase that has been getting restless with the lack of roster upgrades this winter.
Marlins trade SP Elieser Hernandez, SS José Salas, and SS Nasim Nuñez for C Willson Contreras
I think you can see the pattern developing here with the Cubs, they really want very young projectable prospects that are athletic and play up the middle of the field. Not one of the prospects acquired in the Darvish trade has played at a level above rookie ball and three of the four haven’t even played in the United States yet. They want to get very young and they want to load up on these kinds of prospects.
Salas would be a dream acquisition for the Cubs under this criteria, he’s 17 years old and has yet to appear in the US for the Marlins. He’s a middle infielder with a massive ceiling and is one of the most exciting prospects in the bottom half of the Marlins Top 30. Nasim is a little older at 20 years old, but he hasn’t played above rookie ball and still has a ways to go in his development, but shows good tools. Hernandez would give the Cubs a solid piece to add to their rebuilding rotation, but it’s not clear if he’d be a long term part of the rotation and he seems to be pretty expandable in the Marlins organization.
While losing Salas would hurt, he is 17 years old and when a player is that far away it’s a small price to pay for a player of Contreras’s quality. The Marlins need to improve their offense and they need to do it fast if they want to get back to the Postseason. They can’t just hold on to guys that are light years away from the bigs if they want to do that. Moving on from Elieser hurts the rotation short term, but they wouldn’t be giving up one of their top pitching prospects and it remains unclear whether Hernandez is a part of the Marlins rotation plans long term.
This would look somewhat similar to the Darvish trade but less capital, and the prospects wouldn’t impact the Cubs system as much as that deal. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Darvish deal for the Cubs, so I think this deal would favor the Marlins and go a long way to helping them build a sustainable winner.
Marlins trade SP Braxton Garrett, OF Connor Scott, and SS Nasim Nuñez for C Willson Contreras
As you can see I think Nasim is a perfect candidate for the Cubs. He is pretty much exactly what they’re looking for, and if anything he’s too old for them. It’s not that I think the Marlins should move on from him, it’s just that he would be a great fit for Chicago. Garrett, the #7 prospect in the Marlins system, would be tough to move on from. He reportedly hasn’t been put on the table yet, per Craig Mish. But the Fish have two good, mature lefty prospects so surrendering one wouldn’t be the end of the world, and I’m higher on Trevor Rogers.
Nasim Nunez legs out an infield single for GCL #Marlins Speed jumps out at you. Swing is fine. Had a fly out in first AB. pic.twitter.com/HedWEq8enk— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) June 24, 2019
Scott is a projectable young outfielder who has yet to display tremendous offensive ability, though he had a really nice stretch in 2019 that saw him promoted from Low-A to High-A. From May 1 until his promotion on July 29, Scott slashed .279/.337/.397/.734 with a 114 wRC+. You’d like to see more power from Scott but that may just come with filling out his big frame and adding more pop. He has all the tools to be a good hitter and at 21 years old is still young enough to fit that criteria for the Cubs. Again if anything, he might be too old, more appropriate as the potential centerpiece of an Andrew Benintendi package.
I think this deal suits both sides well. The Marlins get the catcher they need so desperately, the Cubs get a young starter with big league experience, and two younger prospects with a ton of upside and athletic ability. The Marlins would be giving up some very good prospects, but they can’t prospect hug for too long if they really want to get better. This would be a sharp move for the Marlins to pick up a very good player that will add a lot to the offense, and play strong defense behind the dish to help their young pitching staff. The best thing about Contreras, a native Venezuelan, is that he plays the game with a swag that would fit in extremely well in Miami.
WHY WOULD YOU NOT WANT THIS GUY @Marlins pic.twitter.com/yaKO3qg2xy— Give Ethan A Vote (@EB_Gators) December 29, 2020