SAN DIEGO — Could Cubs fans worst nightmare come true when it comes to Willson Contreras’ landing spot in free agency?
The answer could come as soon as this week — perhaps within hours of whenever the A’s finally close a deal on a trade of their widely coveted Gold Glove catcher, Sean Murphy.
That’s because the market for Cubs free agent Willson Contreras has heated up enough this week at the Winter Meetings that the All-Star catcher has received multiyear, preliminary offers from three teams, including the Cardinals and Astros, multiple sources said Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear who the third team is (although sources indicated neither the Red Sox nor the Rays).
“There’s a couple guys that’d be a good fit, and it’s a matter of us taking a step back and making sure we get it right,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, who joined Cards president John Mozeliak in a meeting with Contreras and his agents last week near Contreras’ home in Orlando, Florida.
“But Willson is a very good competitor,” Marmol added. “This is a guy that loves to win, who wakes up thinking about it and goes to sleep thinking about it. We’ve seen him quite a bit across the way, and it’s a guy you don’t want to compete against because you know he’s pretty good.
“He’s a great competitor and we respect his game.”
Contreras to the Cardinals? Yikes.
All three teams in the bidding for Contreras are linked to the Murphy trade sweepstakes. None of the free agent offers being discussed exceed four years. But when Murphy lands — to the Rays? — one source expects the focus on Contreras to intensify. That could mean the chance to leverage an offer of five or more years.
Astros manager Dusty Baker and other Astros officials met with Contreras’ agents on Monday in San Diego.
Baker, whose input helped nixed an otherwise done deal for Contreras at the trade deadline in August, said Monday he likes Contreras and downplayed his input at the deadline, calling it more a timing issue for the three-time All-Star than anything else.
“[This is] just maybe a postponement, who knows?” Baker said.
The Cardinals have the most symbolic, if not the most urgent, need at the position as they look to backfill for retiring, Hall of Fame-bound Yadi Molina.
“We know we’re not going to replace Yadi,” Mozeliak said during last month’s General Managers Meetings. “He was a defensive savant. But we don’t want to take a huge step back defensively because our team is centered around defense.
“And the other thing that sort of goes unseen,” he added, “is that Yadi was so good on helping with game prep, game strategy, obviously in-game decisions with the pitcher. His baseball IQ was incredible.
“How do you backfill for that or replace it? That’s something internally we have to work through.”
That was a big part of meeting face-to-face with Contreras last week.
“It was a good visit; it really was,” Marmol said. “When you set aside everything from a competitive [perspective], seeing him from across the way, and you’re just having a conversation with him and what drives him and what motivates him and what he’s looking for moving forward, it’s telling. We enjoyed our visit.”