Brewers Land Catcher William Contreras In Three-Team Trade With A’s, Braves

After coming home empty-handed from the MLB Winter Meetings last week, the Milwaukee Brewers finally landed a catcher Monday when they acquired William Contreras in a three-team trade that also sent catcher Sean Murphy from Oakland to Atlanta and Manny Pina from the Braves to the A’s.

Contreras, 25, made his debut with at Atlanta in 2020, played 52 games for the Braves during their World Series-winning season in 2021 then landed on his first All-Star team last season when he slashed .278/.354/.508 with 20 home runs, 45 RBIs and an .860 OPS in 97 games.

Had he been with the Brewers last season, he’d have led the team in batting average, slugging and OPS while ranking second in on-base percentage. Beyond that, his 1.1036 OPS against left-handed pitchers was seventh-best in all of baseball last season, which bodes well for a team that combined for a .674 OPS against lefties last season, better than only three other NL squads.

“It’s a dynamic bat,” Brewers general manager Matt Arnold said. (You’ve seen) what he’s been able to do at a relatively young age. That’s one of the things that drew him to us. His bat is something that has the chance to be really special. The fact that he hit 20 home runs as a young guy and was an All-Star last year at a very young age with a long tail of control is something that we feel really good about. We like the fact that he fits into our lineup immediately and hopefully he’s a Brewer – and a productive one – for a very long time.”

While his offense is impressive, Contreras’ defensive skills are still a work-in-progress. The Brewers, though, are well-regarded for helping develop catchers, especially after helping Omar Navarez shed a similar reputation and become one of the best pitch-framers in the game.

Contreras has one minor-league option remaining and with just over a year of service time under his belt, won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2025 and is under team control until 2028.

“That’s a big part of this,” Arnold said. “He’s somebody who’s not a rental but we think has a chance to be here and be a Brewer for a long time. Just having those kind of ingredients, we’ve talked a lot about the exciting young ball club we’re trying to put together here and we feel like he can certainly be a part of that, especially already having been an All-Star at a very young age.”

Adding a catcher was a primary goal for Arnold and his staff this winter after Milwaukee’s backstops slashed a combined .202/.292/.316 last season and produced a .608 OPS that ranked 11th among the 15 NL clubs in 2022.

Narvaez anchored that group but hit the free agent market after the season while his primary backup, switch-hitting Victor Caratini, provided a good fit behind the plate after joining the team just before Opening Day but batted just .199 with a .642 OPS in 95 games.

Milwaukee acquired former farmhand Payton Henry from the Marlins earlier this offseason and still has prospect Mario Feliciano in the system but Arnold said adding a player of Contreras’ caliber was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“That was something we were very open to doing and something we had our eye on trying to accomplish over the last couple months,” Arnold said. “Once he became a possibility, it was something we really tried to narrow down and ultimately, we were able to come together.

Along with Contreras, whose older brother Wilson just signed a five-year deal with the Cardinals after drawing the ire of Brewers fans during six seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee received right-handed pitchers Justin Yaeger from Atlanta and Joel Payamps from the A’s.

Yaeger, 24, was the Braves’ 33rd-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft and made it to Double-A last season, posting a 3.39 ERA in 38 appearances while Payamps, 28, has pitched for four teams — Kansas City, Arizona, Toronto and Oakland — over the last four seasons, compiling a 3.35 ERA in 82 appearances. He started last season with the Royals, going 2-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 29 appearances before landing on waivers then pitched in 12 games for Oakland, where he went 1-3 with a 3.46 mark to close out the year.

“Payamps is a guy we’ve had our eye on for a couple of years and when he was over in Oakland. When he became available, we thought he was a really good arm who could fit into our mix in the major leagues immediately,” Arnold said. “Yaeger’s a guy with high-upside and electric stuff … Being able to add two arms to our organization is something we feel good about.”

To land those three players, Milwaukee sent outfielder/utilityman Esteury Ruiz to the A’s.

Ruiz, 23, was one of the four players the Brewers received from San Diego in July for closer Josh Hader. He appeared in three games for Milwaukee, going 0-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts, but had a .938 OPS in 114 minor league games.

“Losing somebody like Esteury Ruiz is tough,” Arnold said. “As you guys know, we certainly value athleticism and that type of player but at the same time, we feel like we were able to convert that athlete into another athlete in William Contreras who also fits our team exceptionally well.

The deal included another Milwaukee connection as Pina spent six seasons with the Brewers before signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Braves in November 2021.

He appeared in just five games for Atlanta after suffering a season-ending wrist injury on April 28.