By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs know they have their catcher for years to come in the 24-year-old Willson Contreras, who’s on five-week hitting surge in which he’s hit 14-of-26 with runners in scoring position since June 10. Contreras also has 10 home runs since June 19, a mark that leads all catchers in the game in that stretch.
In addition to his offense, the energized Contreras has continued to improve his defense and gain the trust of Cubs pitchers. There is a concern, however: Contreras has been putting in a lot of work, and the best way to preserve him from the rigors of the position is for the Cubs to add a solid backup.
Rookie backup catcher Victor Caratini has potential and has been praised by team officials, but he’s not ready to catch in a championship push yet. The Cubs need Contreras in his best condition for a playoff push and also would like to have insurance should an injury befell him.
The ideal scenario for the Cubs would be to acquire a veteran catcher who can ably handle 15 to 20 games in the final two months of the season. Of course, there’s a balancing act involved here. Contreras is the primary catcher, so the Cubs would want to bring in a veteran who fully understands he’s the No. 2 and not an everyday player.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Contreras said about bringing in a veteran backup. “I don’t make those decisions. If they find someone to come over, he will be welcomed by the team. I want to keep doing what I have been doing. I want to play my best for the team.”
For his part, the energetic Contreras wants to catch every day. Of course, that’s unrealistic, and manager Joe Maddon knows it’s not a practical answer in the catching rotation. Last season, the Cubs had two veteran catchers in Miguel Montero and David Ross, but neither is around any longer.
Tigers catcher Alex Avila remains the ideal fit for the Cubs, and they remain interest, sources said. The 30-year-old Avila has playoff experience, and his left-handed bat would complement the right-swinging Contreras. Avila is also a quality defender, and because he’ll be a free agent in November, the price to acquire him doesn’t have to be too painful.
The other name to keep an eye on is Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who’s also set to be a free agent this offseason. Like with Avila, the financial aspect isn’t an impediment to acquiring Lucroy.
But for now, the burden falls on Caratini.
“We like Victor Caratini a lot,” Maddon responded when asked about a possible trade. “I know we have a couple of days to get it all together. I know the boys (front office) are trying. This is not denigrating Victor. We don’t want him sitting around this much. It bothers me to see him there. He is in a great mood every day. Moving forward, there are different (trades for catchers that) we have discussed. I am not sure where that is at.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.