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Yankees potential trade target: Willson Contreras

The Cubs catcher would bring competency on offense to pair with Jose Trevino.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The unexpected All-Star breakout season of Jose Trevino really kept Brian Cashman from getting a bit of egg on his face this offseason. The original plan of using Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt as a tandem team almost certainly would not have come even close to the kind of offensive production Trevino is putting up on his own.

Trevino has emerged as the unquestioned starter rather than part of an even split at catcher because Higgy has been almost unplayable. He has a 0.3 fWAR mark, only positive because of his contributions on defense, but even those are not as strong as advertised — Baseball Savant has him in the 33rd percentile in catcher framing. Someone who could hit even a little would be a an upgrade from him.

Enter Willson Contreras, the longtime Chicago Cubs catcher. The 30-year-old debuted in the Cubs championship year of 2016, and has a career .260/.353/.461 batting line. He’s one of the best-hitting catchers in the game.

And, importantly, he’s living up to that title this year, despite the low stakes of the Cubs season. He’s high up on the charts of exit velocity and hard hit balls, which the Yankees very much like in their hitters.

He’s capable of taking his walks, too. The red flag in his numbers would be his tendency to swing and miss. He whiffs on about 30% of the pitches he swings at, which is one of the higher marks in the league. The Yankees have credited moving their lineup away from slow, strikeout-prone sluggers as a key reason for their remarkable success so far this season, so perhaps that could turn the team away from him.

However, Contreras is still making some of the best contact of his career. His .266 batting average is his best since 2019, and his expected batting average is even higher, at .277, which would be the best of his career if it holds up. He doesn’t have a BABIP that’s out of line with his career norms, either.

In terms of defense, Contreras is ranked as leaving something to be desired in terms of framing, ranking in the 35th percentile there, and given that’s a skill the Yankees obviously covet, that might nix any trade potential right there. He does have a very good pop time to second base, but has shown issues with throwing out base stealers in the past. He allowed 61 stolen bases (!) in 2017, and 52 the next year. The numbers have gone down since then, but batters evidently feel mostly comfortable running on him.

The Cubs could have dealt Contreras last year, alongside old fan favorites like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, but chose to hold on. The team is obviously not competitive right now, and Contreras is maybe the last great trade chip they have left from their glory days. He won’t be around for the next competitive Cubs team, barring a reunion, so the front office might be loath to let him walk away without getting prospects in return, as he’s a free agent at the end of the season.

Despite his status as a rental, Contreras would not come cheap. He’d be an improvement at catcher for virtually every team in line for the playoffs, so the Yankees wouldn’t be bidding alone. Still, he’d take a lot of pressure off of Trevino to keep up his performance, and actually give the Yankees a functioning bat at catcher on days when he doesn’t play. The end of that black hole at the bottom of the lineup might be worth a couple of top solid by itself.