5 Players the Tampa Bay Rays Could Trade For Before the Deadline
Willson Contreras, C (Chicago Cubs)
It may not be historically accurate to talk about the Rays and the premium trade target of the season in the same sentence, and this article is probably too Cubs-centric at this point, but the fit is too good to ignore. Contreras is a pure rental, set to hit the free-agent market at the end of the season, and there has been no considerable progress made on extension talks between the two sides, which has led many people to believe a trade is inevitable.
The Houston Astros have reportedly taken themselves out of the pursuit of Contreras, which means the Rays could become the top suitor in the American League if they wanted. They've received no offense from the catcher position this season (48 wRC+ by Rays catchers) - Mike Zunino is injured and off to a career-worst start at the plate despite his continued defensive success, and Francisco Mejia has been a black hole on both sides of the ball. Acquiring Contreras, the best offensive catcher in baseball, would completely transform this lineup.
In fact, he is having a career season with the bat. If the season ended today, his .949 OPS would exceed his previous career-high by over 60 points, and he leads all qualified Major League catchers in OPS, average exit velocity (93.6 mph), hard-hit rate (57.9%), and xwOBA (.429). He checks the boxes of contact, power, overall production, and expected production. There is nobody better offensively at the catcher position than him at this moment.
The Cubs will ask for a big package in return, and the hesitancy of the Rays' front office to increase payroll means that they would need to either ask the Cubs to cover part of his contract or find some other source of funds to pay him, but there may not be a bigger upgrade that could be made in a single trade in all of baseball than the one the Rays could make at the catcher position by trading for Willson Contreras. It would push the boundaries of what the Rays have been willing to do to acquire players throughout their history, but of all the players they could trade for in 2022, he may be the only one who can change their fate by the season's end.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, BaseballSavant, BaseballReference