Willson Contreras honored to succeed Yadier Molina with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in more than 18 years, the St. Louis Cardinals will have a new starting catcher.

Catcher Willson Contreras signed a five-year contract with a club option for 2028, the team announced Friday at a news conference.

"Willson is a proven All-Star performer who is driven to win each and every day," Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "The Cardinals have had a lengthy history of standout catchers, and we feel that Willson is someone who is capable of adding his name to that distinguished list in the years to come."

Financial terms were not released. A person familiar with the negotiations previously told The Associated Press the five-year deal is worth $87.5 million.

Contreras, 30, batted .243 with 22 home runs and 55 RBI in 113 games last season for the Chicago Cubs. He debuted with the Cubs in 2016 and won a World Series as a rookie, an experience he is looking to repeat with his new organization.

"I came here because I know the history of the team," Contreras said. "I know that this is a team that is looking forward to winning and the whole organization is looking at one direction, to get back to the World Series."

Contreras takes over for 10-time All-Star Yadier Molina, who retired after spending his entire 19-year career with the Cardinals.

"We all know who the guy is, the best catcher the last two decades, future Hall of Famer, first ballot," said Contreras, who was the National League's starting catcher in the 2018, 2019 and 2022 MLB All-Star Games. "But I came here to be Willson Contreras. For me it's an honor to succeed a Hall of Famer behind the plate. It's a big responsibility which I take, and I know that every time I step on the field, I do my 100% to win that day."

Mozeliak and Marmol first met with Contreras in Orlando on Nov. 30. The club started negotiating on Monday with Contreras' agent, Scott Pucino, and the two parties agreed to terms by Tuesday night.

Cardinals catchers combined last season to hit .209 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI with a .552 OPS that ranked 29th among 30 MLB teams.

"Adding that bat to our lineup is important," Marmol said. "He's got some serious pop, but he's a really good hitter and kind of lets the game come to him, doesn't try to do too much."

The Venezuela native is a .256 hitter with 117 homers and 365 RBI in 734 career games over seven seasons. He hit a career-best 24 homers in 2019 and drove in a career-high 74 runs in 2017.

Contreras was one of the last remaining members of the Cubs' 2016 World Series champion team. Kyle Hendricks is the only active player left in Chicago from that club.

Contreras finds himself on the opposite site of a historic rivalry.

"I'm excited for what the next chapter is," Contreras said. "I'm thankful for the organization, thankful for the fans of Chicago. They always will have a special place in my heart. I played for them, but now I'm looking forward to beating the Chicago Cubs. It's just part of the game. It's just part of the business. I'm here, and I'm looking forward to doing everything I can to help the St. Louis Cardinals win."

Earlier this offseason, Contreras rejected the Cubs' $19.65 million qualifying offer meaning St. Louis will surrender its second round draft pick in the 2023 MLB Draft and the Cubs will gain a pick after Competitive Balance Round B.