MLB

Willson Contreras steps in for Yadier Molina with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS — The move the Cardinals hope will continue their decades-long stability at catcher and make them true World Series contenders again — agreeing to terms with World Series-winning star Willson Contreras in free agency — isn’t expected to become official until Friday following MLB approval.

Contreras, a three-time All-Star who agreed to a five-year, $87.5 million contract that will shift him from the rival Cubs to the Cardinals, could appear at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium as early as Friday for an introductory news conference.

Cardinals officials can’t comment on the pending deal until finalized, but Contreras spoke out about his former team and his new team — bitter rivals dating back to 1892 — to the Players’ Tribune on Thursday afternoon.

“This is a [Cardinals] team that’s built to win,” Contreras said of his soon-to-be new club, which had three players in Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Ryan Helsley on the NL All-Star roster with him in 2022. “They’re built to win now, and they’re built to win in the future, too. It’s a team that’s consistent and this roster is filled with amazing players — Arenado, Goldschmidt, [Tommy] Edman, [Nolan] Gorman, all those pitchers … I could go on and on. It’s just super exciting to me. I can’t wait to get to spend time and get to know them and start working toward a world championship.”

Contreras, the most accomplished catcher on the free-agent market, met with Cardinals president John Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol at an Orlando, Fla., hotel last week to discuss his baseball motivations. That getting-to-know-you effort by the Cardinals proved especially impactful to Contreras, leading to him to saying: “I asked a bunch of questions, of course, and every answer was music to my ears.”

Marmol heard many of the things that retired St. Louis icon Yadier Molina said about the 30-year-old catcher. The manager was impressed that the fiery catcher was still so driven to be great.

“When you set aside everything from a competitive standpoint and you’re just having a conversation, you’re learning what motivates him and drives him and what he’s looking for moving forward. It’s telling,” Marmol said at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. “We talked about loving winning and this is a guy who loves to win. We’ve seen that quite a bit across the way [in the Cards-Cubs rivalry]. It’s a guy you don’t want to compete against, because you know he’s good. He’s a great competitor and you respect his game.”

The Cardinals pursued Contreras, a Venezuela native, because they thought he had the mettle and credentials to follow Molina, the potential Hall of Famer who manned the catcher’s position in St. Louis for 19 seasons before retiring. Contreras spoke glowingly of Molina’s grit and desire to win, and he said trying to uphold Molina’s tradition of excellence will be “one of the great honors of my life.”

“First things first: No one could ever replace Yadier Molina. We all know that,” Contreras said. “It’s impossible. Actually, if there’s some word that means even more than the word impossible … that’s what it is. Yadier Molina is a legend.”

Contreras helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series, but this past season he became the last remaining link to that squad when Chicago systematically dealt away various veteran players in hopes of rebuilding. Each of those transactions seemed to spark thoughts of leaving the North Side and playing elsewhere — even with the rival Cardinals, Contreras said. Cubs president Jed Hoyer said that, even though Contreras would be playing on the other side of the rivalry, he would be pulling for the standout catcher to find happiness.

“Listen, I wish him the best,” Hoyer said in San Diego. “He was a Cub for a long time. He obviously came up through our system. I admire how much he fought through his early struggles and obviously, starting in 2015, he really came on. We won a World Series with him.

“I admire his toughness and resilience behind the plate. He played hurt a lot. He always came to the ballpark wanting to play. Obviously, he signed with the Cardinals, but I wish him happiness. He gave us a lot of happiness and I wish him the same.”


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