Angels Pursued Willson Contreras Prior To Cardinals Deal

In recent days, it was reported that the Cardinals and Astros had each given multi-year offers to catcher Willson Contreras, with the Cardinals eventually winning the bidding by giving him five-year, $87.5MM deal. However, there was one other team apparently at the table, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Angels were one of the teams outbid by the Cards.

The Angels have been fairly active so far this offseason, adding to their pitching staff by signing Tyler Anderson for their rotation and Carlos Estévez for their bullpen, while adding Gio Urshela to their infield and Hunter Renfroe to their outfield. It seems they are still hoping to make further moves, but the fact that they pursued a catcher like Contreras is at least mildly surprising since that doesn’t stand out as the club’s most obvious weak spot.

Max Stassi had a nice breakout for the Halos over 2020 and 2021, getting into 118 games and hitting .250/.333/.452 for a wRC+ of 113, indicating he was 13% better than league average. When combined with his strong glovework, he produced 3.6 wins above replacement over that time, according to FanGraphs. With Stassi set to reach free agency after 2022, the club signed him to an extension that went through 2024 with an club option for 2025. Unfortunately, he had a dismal campaign in 2022, hitting just .180/.267/.303. He probably deserved better than that, however, as his .239 batting average on balls in play was below his .276 career mark and well below his .325 from 2021. With another two guaranteed seasons on his deal, he’s sure to be in the mix somehow with a chance to bounce back.

Then there’s also Logan O’Hoppe, who came over from the Phillies in the deadline deal that sent Brandon Marsh to Philadelphia. Between the two clubs, he annihilated Double-A pitching last year, leading to a batting line of .283/.416/.544 and a wRC+ of 159. He skipped Triple-A to get a five-game cup of coffee in the big leagues as the season was winding down.

Neither Stassi or O’Hoppe are a sure thing, but it would have been reasonable enough to go into the season with the two of them each jockeying for playing time and letting it get sorted as the season went along. However, it seems the club has at least some openness to upgrade, based on their pursuit of Contreras. It’s possible they want to give O’Hoppe more time in the minors or maybe that they would have pursued trades with Stassi if they landed Contreras.

General manager Perry Minasian recently told members of the media that the club could push pay the competitive balance tax in 2023 with no ownership mandate against it. Roster Resource currently pegs their 2023 payroll at $198MM with a CBT figure of $213MM. The first threshold of the luxury tax will be $233MM next year, giving the Angels about $20MM to work with before they have to think about whether they are willing to cross the line or not.

Contreras ended up signing a five-year, $87.5MM deal, with comes to an average annual value of $17.5MM. We don’t know exactly how much the Angels were willing to spend on Contreras, but something in this vicinity would have gotten them close to luxury tax territory. Assuming the Angels still have that money to spend on other players, it’s a good sign for Angel fans. The club could look for another backstop but have also been connected to shortstops and bullpen help. Since Contreras was clearly on a different tier to the other available free agent backstops, it’s possible that the Angels were willing to make an exception for him and won’t necessarily circle down to the other options. However, if they are interested in pursuing help behind the plate, the free agent market has options like Christian Vázquez and Gary Sánchez. The trade market is highlighted by Oakland’s Sean Murphy and Toronto’s Danny Jansen, though the asking prices on from both the A’s and the Jays are reportedly quite high.

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