Now that Yasmani Grandal is off the market, the catching options in free agency are remarkably underwhelming. The Braves could opt to save money at the position and continue to platoon with Tyler Flowers and another below-average option, but this might be the spot where they can upgrade the most.
It’s been discussed over the last week or so that the Cubs could be shopping catcher Willson Contreras, brother of Atlanta’s #9 prospect William Contreras. The last time the Braves brought in a pair of brothers, it went just fantastic. Melvin and Justin had their moments, including back to back home runs to win a game, but other than that, it was a lot of disappointment. Justin hit .267 with 56 bombs over two seasons. We won’t talk about Melvin.
Regardless, Atlanta dumped them at the right time (both to the Padres). In return, they received Max Fried for Justin and Austin Riley for Melvin. As disastrous as it seemed, it did work out in the end. Braves fans might be a little wary of bringing another set of siblings to Atlanta, but this scenario is much different.
Willson Contreras would be the new Justin. He’s been rock solid. Atlanta would have to cough up some prospect capital to acquire him, but Chicago is starving for young arms, and the Braves have plenty to spare. Even after his run in last spring with Tyler Flowers, he’s a perfect fit for this club who needs a force at catcher. It feels like the Braves haven’t had a quality backstop since Brian McCann (and NO, I’m not talking about 2019 McCann). Willson is only 27, and he just had one of his best seasons in the pros. He can play both corner outfield spots and fill in at first base if we see another Freddie Freeman injury. Here are his career numbers:
2016: .282/.357/.488/.845, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 37% CS (World Series Champion)
2017: .276/.356/.499/.855, 21 HR, 74 RBI, 27% CS
2018: .249/.339/.390/.730, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 34% CS (All-Star)
2019: .272/.355/.533/.888, 24 HR, 64 RBI, 29% CS (All-Star)
2018 was a “down year” for Willson, but he’s played at a high level every season he’s been in the pros. Considering he’s under control until 2023, he’s going to come with a steep price tag. However, how does William fit into the picture? He would be the new Melvin (except not terrible and grossly overpaid with one of the worst contracts in franchise history).
2019 (A+/AA): .255/.315/.354/.669, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 33% CS
William is currently in Mississippi and coming off another solid season. His numbers are strikingly similar to his big brother Willson’s, and he’ll probably get his first cup of coffee in the majors in 2021. So for a one year bridge, the Braves already have Tyler Flowers on the payroll for $4 million. He’ll be gone after 2020, and if William plays well enough, Atlanta will feature two Contreras brothers behind the plate. Chemistry is so important in baseball, especially when catching. Having two guys who will always be on the same page and can connect with a pitching staff would be a big help in developing these young arms.
This would be one of those all in type moves Braves fans have been hoping for, and it fits their window. They pick up three years of an All-Star caliber backstop at a reasonable price, allowing their two best catching prospects, William and 2019 first-round pick Shea Langeliers plenty of time to develop at their own pace. But like most potential blockbuster deals, it would come down to the Cubs ask, who’d be selling high on Contreras.
If the Braves battened down the hatches in free agency by re-signing Josh Donaldson, this could be the kind of offensive boost that puts them over the top in the postseason. However, Anthopoulos balked on the Marlins high asking price for Realmuto, and if he were to re-do that, I’m pretty sure he’d walk away again. The Cubs will be asking for even more in return for Contreras.