The Texas Rangers catching crew in 2019 was often a liability. Heading into 2020, could they turn to a Willson Contreras trade as a major upgrade?
While the Texas Rangers reported pursuit of Nolan Arenado dominates the club’s trade rumor mill, Texas still has an interest in shoring up their tandem behind the plate after a dismal 2019 season. With the free agent market now lacking on impact catching options, could the Rangers turn to the trade market as they look to bolster the depth behind the dish? If they are looking at trade options, the Chicago Cubs, who seem to be surprisingly in sell mode, have a catcher that has already had his name thrown about in trade rumors.
Willson Contreras seems one of the most surprising names thrown out their on a superstar heavy trade market, yet he might be available. Just 27, Contreras has emerged as one of the top catchers in the game and is fresh off back-to-back All-Star bids. A younger player that still has three years of team control remaining fits right into the timeline the Rangers more or less have laid out for themselves.
Contreras is a bat-first catcher evidenced by his .272 average in 2019 and .888 OPS. He hit 24 home runs while posting a 127 wRC+, both high marks in his career. Defensively Contreras has some struggles finishing near the bottom of qualified catchers in Framing Runs Above Average at -7.7 just two spot ahead of Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Hence the statement that he’s a bat-first catcher. However, his bat may be to the point that the defensive concerns are someone mitigated.
Last year, the Texas Rangers catchers combined to post a slash line of just .193/.241/.298. The catcher’s combined .539 OPS was more than 100 points lower than the OPS than the next lowest position, .699 combined among those playing third base. Not only were they ineffective as a unit offensively, they were a liability. Jose Trevino provided perhaps the lone bright spot after his late season call-up showing some offensive potential. Still, he lacked pop with the bat posting just a .655 OPS and 59 wRC+ in 40 games.
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Trading for Contreras would be a pricey move. There’s still debate as to whether the Cubs will actually move him and because of his ability and remaining team control, he’s a fairly cheap option for a few more years. However, for the Rangers he’d be more than just an upgrade at the position, he’d be a complete 180 degree turn. They would go from having historically bad offensive production from their catchers to some of the best in the league. It would also allow Texas to lock in with a pair of Contreras and Trevino for the next few seasons, a young tandem that should hold its own well.
Regarding his defensive struggles, the Rangers could offset those some by limiting his games behind the plate. Last season he played in 99 games at catcher for the Cubs. Because he possesses a stellar bat, the Rangers could give him quasi-days off by playing him at DH, a luxury the NL-based Cubs couldn’t afford. With Trevino looking like an above-average defensive catcher, he could balance well with the offense-first Contreras.
This move would likely be in lieu of any potential deal for Nolan Arenado. Both players would command a significant prospect package including at least one or two of the organization’s top guys. It’s unlikely the Rangers would put together massive prospect deals twice and probably a bit unwise. This isn’t something garnering as much smoke as Arenado but might be an alternative if they can’t land the perennial Gold Glove winner. There’s a case to be made that Texas needs a catcher as much as they need a third baseman and Willson Contreras could be an option worth pursuing.