Cubs FA Contreras agrees to 5-year deal with rival Cardinals


After a 2022 season full of trade rumors and emotional goodbyes, it’s real this time.

And not only is Willson Contreras officially leaving the Cubs, but he’s joining the division rival Cardinals as the successor to retiring St. Louis catcher Yadi Molina.

Contreras has agreed to a five-year deal with the Cards worth $87.5 million, ESPN's Jeff Passan reported.

Contreras was the top free agent catcher on the market this winter, with a return to the Cubs seen as unlikely for months. 

The Cubs shopped him leading up to the trade deadline, agreeing to a deal with the Astros that was nixed by Houston ownership. They ultimately kept him and offered Contreras a qualifying offer last month, which he turned down.

The Cubs will receive a compensation pick in the 2023 MLB Draft as a result of Contreras signing elsewhere. It will fall after Competitive Balance Round B, which follows the second round.

“This is a spot that I wanted to be since I was a kid, and I did everything I could to reach free agency,” Contreras said during the Cubs’ final series of the 2022 season. “So, it makes me proud.

“At the same time, it makes me a little nostalgic to leave my team. But everything happens for a reason, and I’m ready for whatever comes next.”

Contreras has spent his entire professional career on the North Side after signing as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2009.

He started five of seven games in the 2016 World Series and has earned three All-Star starting nods (all in the last four seasons) — tied for Hall of Famer Gabby Harnett for most in team history. 

His 117 home runs rank third among catchers in Cubs history, behind Harnett and Jody Davis.

The Cardinals were one of three teams to make a multi-year offer to Contreras at the Winter Meetings this week, a group that also included the Astros, NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer reported.

St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol and team president John Mozeliak met with Contreras and his agents last week near the backstop’s home in Florida.

“Willson is a very good competitor,” Marmol said Tuesday. “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.”

A competitor the Cubs will now have to face more than a dozen times each season for the foreseeable future — and find a way to replace his offensive production.

Contreras' .815 OPS and 128 OPS+ led the Cubs last season. He ranked second with 22 homers and third in RBIs in just 113 games.

Contreras is the latest player in recent memory to switch sides in the I-55 rivalry. John Lackey and Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs after 2015, and Dexter Fowler with the Cards after 2016.

The Cubs released Heyward last month, leaving Kyle Hendricks as the only player from the 2016 championship team still on the roster.

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