Ostrowski: Contreras both elite and a bargain for Chicago Cubs
Is Willson Contreras already elite?
A little more than 13 months ago, Cubs manager Joe Maddon asked his catcher to pinch hit in a Sunday night game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A moment later, Wrigley Field was going wild as Contreras became just the 30th player in baseball's modern era to hit a home run on the first pitch of his first AB.
In Contreras' first full season, he's on pace for 25 homers, 29 doubles and 89 RBI. He has carried the Cubs offensively in July with a .338 average, .407 on-base percentage, 7 home runs, 18 RBI and a 1.069 on-base plus slugging.
Spring-training concerns over working with a veteran pitching staff seem like a distant memory. There hasn't been any chatter about Jon Lester missing David Ross.
Lester, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey always have had issues holding runners on. Since 2013, these three are in baseball's bottom five in stolen bases allowed. Lester has let runners take a base 112 times in that span.
For obvious reasons, Contreras has allowed 47 stolen bases on 67 attempts, both major-league highs. However, he's second in baseball with 20 caught stealing and 5 pickoffs.
Perhaps the most impressive Contreras statistic is one that takes everything into account and compares him to other catchers. He has a 2.4 FanGraphs WAR, which puts him behind only 2012 MVP Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants and J.T. Realmuto of the Miami Marlins.
Third-best catcher in the game? Sounds elite to me. Contreras is the only Cub to be top five in fWAR at his position.
Contreras' 2.4 fWAR trails only two teammates, 2016 MVP Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. His contract is shaping up to be the second-most valuable on the team behind Bryant. And Contreras is under control through 2022, one year longer than Bryant.
It's highway robbery that Contreras is making only $544,500 this season, just 7.6 percent of Miguel Montero's $14 million dollars. There are 54 catchers with a higher salary than Contreras this season.
The front office has openly discussed the need to add a veteran backup catcher to give Contreras some rest down the stretch. The Cubs' everyday backstop has played 92 games, second most among all catchers.
The nonwaiver trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m. Keep an eye on experienced catchers with expiring contracts such as Miami's A.J. Ellis, the New York Mets' Rene Rivera, Detroit's Alex Avila and Texas' Jonathan Lucroy.
Contreras played in every NLCS and World Series game as a rookie. Not bad for a guy who was figuring things out in the minor leagues, playing every position except shortstop and center field.
Now the Cubs will have at least six more shots at another championship with Contreras behind the plate. The scary thought for the rest of the league is he's only partially developed.
• Joe Ostrowski is a co-host of the "Hit & Run" baseball show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on WSCR 670-AM The Score with Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter@JoeO670.