St. Louis Cardinals Sign Willson Contreras

by Connor Thomure
St. Louis Cardinals Sign Willson Contreras

The St. Louis Cardinals have signed Willson Contreras to a 5-year contract worth $87.5M. Contreras is the Cardinals' replacement for Yadier Molina after the 19-year veteran retired this offseason.

It's an exciting move for a long-time Chicago Cub, Contreras, who is now playing with his former rivals. The Cardinals and Cubs are one of the fiercest rivalries in all sports, and it just got better. These two teams will meet again on May 8 at Wrigley Field. The biggest question is, will Cubs fans give Contreras a standing ovation or boo him for joining the Cardinals?

From the Fantasy side, this is an excellent move for Contreras. In terms of runs, he went from the 22nd-ranked offense to the fifth-ranked offense in 2022. The Cardinals kept most of their roster intact, losing only Albert Pujols and Molina from the starting lineup. This means there is no reason the Cardinals shouldn't finish 2023 as a top-five offense.

In 2022 Contreras ranked fifth among all catchers in home runs (22), fifth in runs (65), and 10th in RBI (55). Expect Contreras to finish with more RBI as he's expected to bat behind Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, creating plenty of RBI opportunities. Fantasy managers should be willing to draft Contreras earlier this year than they have in the last few years.

St. Louis Cardinals Sign Willson Contreras

Willson Contreras with the Chicago Cubs

Contreras spent seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs and was one of the best offensive catchers in this span. Since 2016, Contreras has ranked fifth among catchers in home runs, second in runs, and sixth in RBI. The catcher has meant a lot to the Cubs and Fantasy Baseball managers who have depended on him.

Contreras is a three-time All-Star and helped the Cubs win the 2016 Word Series. During Contreras' time in Chicago, the Cubs went from a 100-win team in 2016 to a 74-win team in 2022.

Contreras set a career-high for runs in 2022 while also setting a career-low strikeout rate of 21.1%. The career-high runs are due in part to Contreras batting in the upper third of the lineup compared to earlier seasons when he batted fourth or fifth. The strikeout rate, however, is encouraging to see out of the 30-year-old backstop.

Willson Contreras' Fantasy Impact with the St Louis Cardinals

As mentioned above, this is an excellent move for Contreras. In the last couple of seasons, he was the best batter in the lineup, and now he's the third or even fourth best in the Cardinals lineup. He will get lots of RBI opportunities batting behind Goldschmidt and Arenado and provide the batters behind him with opportunities as well.

This move improves the Fantasy value of the entire Cardinals lineup. Arenado and Goldschmidt finally have a trustworthy option behind them that will force opposing pitchers to throw them strikes, thus allowing them to hit more.

The most significant impact will be on Arenado. Batting behind Goldschmidt, Arenado finished 2021 with 81 runs and 2022 with 73 runs. However, in 2023 with Contreras batting behind him, I expect Arenado to reach 100 runs for the first time since 2019.

Willson Contreras' Departure Impact on the Chicago Cubs

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The departure of Contreras has a massive impact on the Cubs for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they lose a top-of-the-order batter.

Secondly, Yan Gomes and P.J. Higgins are the only two catchers on the MLB roster. Neither is excellent offensively. Higgins spent most of his career in the minors. On the other hand, Gomes is known for his defense and boasts a career slash line of .246/.295/.417 with a 90 wRC+.

Without Contreras on the team, the whole lineup loses Fantasy value compared to a year ago. This includes Seiya Suzuki, Nico Hoerner, and Ian Happ.

The prospect to keep an eye on is 23-year-old Jacob Amaya. The highest-level Amaya has reached is Double-A, and he's likely to make his MLB debut with the Cubs this season. According to FanGraphs, Amaya is ranked as the Cubs' 11th-best prospect, and Fantasy managers should watch him closely this spring.

Check out where Dave Eddy ranks the Cubs prospects in his 2023 Dynasty Baseball Rankings!

Final Thoughts on Willson Contreras

Firstly, draft Contreras earlier this year than last year. Look for Contreras to be the fourth or fifth catcher off the board. This will likely be around the 10th round, depending on where the top-three catchers are drafted.

Secondly, this signing significantly increases Arenado's Fantasy Baseball value, as Arenado could reach 100 runs with Contreras batting behind him. Draft Arenado early this year, around the end of the second round is perfect.

Lastly, the departure of Contreras significantly reduces the Fantasy Baseball value of his former teammates on the Cubs. Happ, Hoerner, and Suzuki all showed promise and potential in 2022, but their run production could take a hit without Contreras. These players are still worthy of being drafted but don't reach for them too early.

Check out more Fantasy Baseball off-season content!

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