Two days ago MLB put out a story about deals that some GM’s may want to try. One trade proposal that was offered up involved the Braves sending Shelby Miller to the Cubs for OF Billy McKinney and C Wilson Contreras. David McKenzie expanded his thoughts in an article soon afterwards. This deal quickly brought out all the fears in Cub fans who are opposed to trading Contreras at this time. It might be nice to really look at this a bit closer.
In June of 2014, the Cubs selected Kyle Schwarber with the #4 pick over-all, in what was at the time a bit of a surprise. Many of the experts had the Cubs going for Michael Conforto who they thought was the best hitter available. The experts also explained that they didn’t feel Schwarber would be able to catch at the upper levels. The Front Office was quick to contradict these reports. They explained the Schwarber was their guy all along because of his bat and believed he could catch as he moved up through the system.
As the 2014 trade deadline approached, the Cubs made a trade that many didn’t give a second thought. They traded Emilo Bonifacio and James Russell to the Braves for Victor Caratini. This trade barely made a blip on the radar but really added depth at the catching position. Caratini is a converted 3B and is a switch hitter with good contact skills and a high on base percentage because of his disciplined approach to the strikezone. On the defensive side, he seemed to hold his own at the lower levels by throwing out 30% of runners and had 5 errors a 6 passed balls. This is extraordinary for a guy that just put on the “tools of ignorance.”
Then the 2015 season started and many forgot all about Caratini because of the breakout season that Wilson Contreras had. Contreras was the Southern League batting champion with a line of .333/.413/.478 with 8HR and 75RBI in 126 games. He was also given much praise for his work behind the plate. He always had the athletic ability but in 2015, Contreras seemed to be clicking on all cylinders! Fans have quickly labeled him as the Cubs catcher of the future.
One level lower at Myrtle Beach, we find Caratini doing some very respectable work as well. He had a line of .257/.342/.372. This may not light the world on fire but we should remember that he is a switch hitter that gets on base and was about 1.5 years younger than the average player in the Carolina League. More importantly for a catcher is the fact that he continued to throw out 29% of baserunners and had only 5 errors and a mere 2 passed balls in 86 games behind the plate! All this at age 21.
In contrast, when Contreras was in high A ball at age 22 and had a line of .242/.320/.359. These stats are not going to get you noticed as well. He did have only 1 error but had a whopping 11 passed balls in only 73 games that he caught! He was promoted to Tennessee last year and his bat spoke very loudly but his defensive stats look very similar to those the year before. Contreras is a hard worker and many inside the organization believe he just needs a bit more work to overcome these shortcomings.
Contreras was sent to the AZL this fall where he was able to showcase his skills. Caratini was sent to the Fall Instructs to get a bit more work. It should be noted that to be in the AZL, you must be in double A ball or higher with a few exceptions made. So we could very well see Caratini there next year if he is in fact to be promoted to Tennessee as expected. MLB also has an ETA of 2017 for both players so we should keep an eye on both guys. We really shouldn’t put blinders on just one guy and keep an open mind to all possibilities.
We are not here to say that the Cubs should make the deal to acquire Shelby Miller. In fact, it may be a bit early to gamble that Caratini could make the same progress as Contreras. However, we should realize that Contreras has had only one season of these exceptional offensive stats. Theo has always said that this progress is not always linear. We saw a perfect example of what he meant with what has happen thus far with Javier Baez. Some guys cannot fit so conveniently into our little mold of what a guy should be producing. If Contreras is promoted to Iowa and we see some regression, is he a bust?
The point is, the Cubs probably want to make a deal from an area of surplus. Right now that area is with a middle infielder or possibly a corner outfielder. Theo and Jed did some great work in 2014 to add catching depth to the organization. Unfortunately, this depth is still too far down in the developmental stage to make an accurate judgement on their futures. We could make a deal involving Contreras if needed. But this leads us to our bigger issue.
When this offseason started, Jed and Theo told us that the Cubs wanted to add 2 pitchers. One of those pitchers was going to be an impact arm. Many rumors have us signing Jeff Samardzija. So we have to ask. If the Cubs do sign Samardzija, is Shelby Miller the “impact” arm we were promised?