SAN DIEGO — The catcher who wanted a chance to sell the Cardinals on his ability to follow Yadier Molina behind the plate at Busch Stadium will get that chance.
The Cardinals have an agreement in place with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, multiple sources told the Post-Dispatch.
Deterred by the ongoing asking price for the top catcher available via trade, the Cardinals pivoted this week to Contreras, the former Cub and three-time All-Star who had a compelling in-person meeting with Cardinals officials last season. The Cardinals had discussed a deal of no more than four years with the catcher before inching it up to five years and besting Houston's bid.
The Cardinals and Contreras are finalizing a five-year, $87.5-million deal. The contract is pending a physical, and the Cardinals brass did not expect to announce or acknowledge the contract before leaving San Diego on Thursday.
People are also reading…
Contreras will be the Cardinals everyday catcher and likely bat fifth in the lineup as manager Oliver Marmol sketched it out Tuesday.
The move for Contreras means the Cardinals are unlikely to pursue a free-agent shortstop like Dansby Swanson. The Cardinals' interest in him was based on the potential of trading for a catcher.
The Cardinals' contract with Contreras is the largest ever finalized by a free agent who has not previously been with the team.
From Wednesday morning at StlToday.com
The Cardinals, shifting their eyes from a trade for a catcher to chasing the best free-agent bat available at the position, are close to finalizing a contract with All-Star Willson Contreras, sources confirmed to the Post-Dispatch.
The deal is not finalized, and it's not yet at a point that it is pending a physical, but both sides feel that significant progress in talks have been made.
The Cardinals came to the annual winter meetings hoping to leave with an answer at catcher, and they have spent the week here in San Diego exploring trade talks with Oakland for Gold Glove-winner Sean Murphy and talking to Toronto about its assortment of catchers, chiefly Danny Jansen. One executive aware of those talks described the asking price as "high — like the moon," and that nudged the Cardinals in the direction of the free-agent market.
The Cardinals had discussed a contract no longer than four years with Contreras, as of Tuesday night, according to a source.
The team was aware of the catcher's asking price to complete a deal, and it's not yet clear if the Cardinals offered a fifth year or created a structure of a deal that could reach five years for the 30-year-old free agent.
One of the Cardinals more recent forays into the free-agent market for a contract of this size was following the 2016 season when they signed the Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5-million deal.
Contreras hit .243 with a .349 on-base percentage and a .466 slugging percentage this past season for the Cubs. He hit 22 home runs and drove home 55 RBIs in 113 games. Contreras started 72 games at catcher and saw 39 for the Cubs at designated hitter. In seven years with the Cubs, he started more than a 100 games at catcher only twice.
Contreras received a qualifying offer from the Cubs, so signing him will cost the Cardinals their second-highest pick in the 2023 draft and $500,000 lopped off their international scouting budget.
Cardinals officials met personally with Contreras in Orlando, Florida, this past week, and their comments about that meeting and more about their interest in Contreras first appeared at StlToday.com on Tuesday night and in the Wednesday pages of the Post-Dispatch.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.