Hoyer: Contreras trade rumor is 'fictional'

December 30th, 2020

CHICAGO -- The Cubs pulled off a stunning future-focused trade on Tuesday night by shipping ace Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres in exchange for righty Zach Davies and four young prospects. And Chicago may not be done.

"I'm not going to sit here and say like we're not going to make any more trades," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said in a Zoom call on Wednesday morning. "If trades make sense to make, then we will do them."

Darvish had three years remaining on his contract, giving the Cubs a valuable trade chip if the goal was to acquire a larger package of prospects. All-Star catcher would also fit that mold, especially given that he is under contractual control through 2022.

And on Tuesday night, a report surfaced that the Cubs were "extensively shopping" Contreras.

"Fictional," Hoyer said of that rumor.

Perhaps the false aspect of that report centered around specific wording, because the Darvish deal makes it clear that Hoyer is opening to fielding calls on any player on his roster. Teams have inquired about Contreras, who is not only a plus offensive catcher, but also dramatically improved his framing in 2020.

"Listen," Hoyer said, "Willson Contreras, I think he's one of the top handful of catchers in baseball. We control him for two more years. I think that catching is a strength of this team as a result of having him on the roster."

That said, catching is also suddenly an area of need for the North Siders. After dealing Caratini to the Padres with Darvish, the Cubs need a new backup behind Contreras. Hoyer said catching prospect Miguel Amaya (No. 3 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list and No. 91 among the Top 100 MLB prospects) is not being considered for that job right now.

"I don't see him as an option, certainly to start the season," Hoyer said. "We're excited about how he's playing in winter ball, and he's a great prospect. But no, he's not someone that we're penciling in. Obviously, we're going to be on the lookout for someone to replace Vic."

Cubs have 'eye on future,' not on free agency
The Cubs changed the culture of the franchise with the six-year, $155 million given to lefty Jon Lester ahead of the 2015 season. Chicago kept its foot on the gas with the eight-year, $184 million free-agent deal handed to outfielder Jason Heyward the next winter.

On Tuesday, the Cubs traded away Darvish, who netted the most recent blockbuster free-agent pact from the club with a six-year, $126 million deal prior to 2018. And it could be some time before the North Siders dive into the deep end of the free-agent market again.

"We will be in that market again," Hoyer said, "just as soon as we have a team that sort of has the bones necessary to do that. I think that right now, we're in this period at the end of the window where I don't think that would make a lot of sense right now to sort of go out into the free-agent market and spend a lot of money.

"We just did that over the last six years. I think right now, like I've mentioned, having an eye toward the future, I think, is really important."

Worth noting
• The clock continues to tick for Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who can become free agents next offseason. Contreras could follow them one year later. In the meantime, Hoyer said he expects extension talks to continue with the core group.

"There are certainly players that we have that we'd love to keep long term," Hoyer said. "There's no question about that. We just haven't -- with this group -- been able to get to that place where it made sense. I'm really proud of the offers we've made. I think we've been incredibly aggressive with some of these guys.

"And they've made the decision that it wasn't enough and that they wanted to either wait for a better offer or to test free agency, and that's 100 percent their right. I begrudge those guys zero percent for making that decision."

• Hoyer still plans on hiring a new general manager from outside the organization, but the search has been put on hold given the hurdles of the coronavirus pandemic. Hoyer said he may wait until the summer, when things are hopefully more conducive for in-person interviews.

"I'm excited to bring someone in," Hoyer said. "But I just want to make sure I can run a process that represents the seriousness of the job, I guess is probably the best way to say it. And I don't feel like I can do that during a pandemic."

• With the acquisition of Davies, the Cubs now have three pitchers who were in the bottom 20 for average fastball (all types) velocity in 2020 (min. 400 fastballs). Kyle Hendricks ranked seventh lowest (87.3 mph), Davies was 11th (88.1 mph) and Alec Mills checked in at 20th (89.9 mph), per Statcast.

"We've had a lot of success with pitchers that can throw a bunch of pitches for strikes, can really control bat speed," Hoyer said. "I think our pitching infrastructure has done a fantastic job of acquiring those types of pitchers and even making them better. So from that standpoint, I think a guy like Davies will flourish with us. That said, it's something we've thought about, that you want to have different looks."