Contreras, Cardinals finalize $87.5M, 5-year contract

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ST. LOUIS – For the first time in more than 18 years, the St. Louis Cardinals will have a new starting catcher.

Willson Contreras and the Cardinals finalized an $87.5 million, five-year contract on Friday, a deal that includes a club option for 2028 that could make it worth $100 million for six seasons.

“Willson is a proven All-Star performer who is driven to win each and every day,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “The Cardinals have had a lengthy history of standout catchers, and we feel that Willson is someone who is capable of adding his name to that distinguished list in the years to come.”

Contreras gets $10 million next season, $18 million in each of the following three years and $18.5 million in 2027. The Cardinals have a $17.5 million option for 2028 with a $5 million buyout.

He has a full no-trade provision through 2026, then can select 10 teams he would agree to be dealt to. Contreras also gets a hotel suite on road trips and award bonuses.

Contreras, 30, batted .243 with 22 home runs and 55 RBIs in 113 games last season for the Chicago Cubs. He debuted with the Cubs in 2016 and won the World Series as a rookie, an experience he is looking to repeat with his new organization.

“I came here because I know the history of the team,” Contreras said. “I know that this is a team that is looking forward to winning and the whole organization is looking at one direction, to get back to the World Series.”

Contreras takes over for 10-time All-Star Yadier Molina, who retired after spending his entire 19-year career with the Cardinals.

“We all know who the guy is, the best catcher the last two decades, future Hall of Famer, first ballot,” said Contreras, who was the National League’s starting catcher in the 2018, 2019 and 2022 All-Star Games. “But I came here to be Willson Contreras. For me it’s an honor to succeed a Hall of Famer behind the plate. It’s a big responsibility which I take, and I know that every time I step on the field, I do my 100% to win that day.”

Mozeliak and Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol first met with Contreras in Florida on Nov. 30. The club started negotiating Monday with Contreras’ agent, Scott Pucino, and the two parties agreed to terms by Tuesday night.

Cardinals catchers combined last season to hit .209 with nine home runs, 48 RBIs and a .552 OPS that ranked 29th among 30 major league teams.

“Adding that bat to our lineup is important,” Marmol said. “He’s got some serious pop, but he’s a really good hitter and kind of lets the game come to him, doesn’t try to do too much.”

The Venezuela native is a .256 hitter with 117 homers and 365 RBIs in 734 career games over seven seasons. He hit a career-best 24 homers in 2019 and drove in a career-high 74 runs in 2017.

Contreras was one of the last remaining members of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship team. Kyle Hendricks is the only active player left in Chicago from that club.

Contreras finds himself on the opposite site of a historic rivalry.

“I’m excited for what the next chapter is,” he said. “I’m thankful for the organization, thankful for the fans of Chicago. They always will have a special place in my heart. I played for them, but now I’m looking forward to beating the Chicago Cubs. It’s just part of the game. It’s just part of the business. I’m here, and I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to help the St. Louis Cardinals win.”

Earlier this offseason, Contreras rejected the Cubs’ $19.65 million qualifying offer, meaning St. Louis will forfeit its second-round pick in the 2023 amateur draft and the Cubs will gain a pick after competitive balance round B.

Contreras could earn $50,000 for All-Star Game election or selection and for a Gold Glove, World Series MVP or League Championship Series MVP. He would get $250,000 if he finishes among the top three in MVP voting and $25,000 for winning a Silver Slugger.

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.