ST. LOUIS – It’s official. Longtime rival and three-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras has joined the St. Louis Cardinals.

Contreras comes on a five-year, $87.5 million contract, the fifth-largest contract offered by the franchise and largest to a player who had not previously played with St. Louis. There will also be a team option for a sixth season in 2028.

“What an amazing day for myself and the Cardinals organization,” said Contreras during a team introduction Friday. “It’s an honor to wear this uniform.”

The torch has been passed at Cardinals catcher. Contreras fills in some big shoes after nine-time Gold Glover winner Yadier Molina finished his 19th and final season behind the plate in October.

“Yadier Molina, we all know who the guy is. The best catcher of the last two decades,” said Contreras. “He set the bar really high. He was my idol. … That’s a guy I’ve learned a lot from watching. It’s an honor to wear this uniform and succeed Yadier Molina.”

Molina’s record-breaking battery mate Adam Wainwright is thrilled about the move. He was the first to reach out to Contreras this week as the Cardinals worked to finalize his deal. Contreras will now catch the sendoff season of Uncle Charlie.

“That’s going to be special,” said Contreras guiding the upcoming sendoff tour. “Waino was the first guy who called me when the deal was almost official. “He was excited for me to be part of the organization. I’m looking forward to working together. I’m really looking forward to spending time with a great guy, a professional on and off the baseball field, and learning from him too.”

The 30-year-old catcher adds that Andre Pallante, Giovanny Gallegos and Jack Flaherty also reached out to him quickly as his deal was getting done.

“It’s going to be good to get to know everybody,” said Contreras. “Everybody has a different personality. I’m here for them. Those pitchers are going to be my best friends throughout my whole career. … I’m really excited, I’m looking forward to spending time with the whole team.”

A World Series champion in his 2016 rookie season, Willson has caught at least 800 innings in five seasons and slugged at least 20 home runs in four of those. The experience, his appreciation of Cardinals history and many other factors were key drawing points for the Cardinals.

“He cares about winning, building relationships, and mentoring young people around here,” said Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. “That’s a really good fit for what we got going on.”

“It was going to take a very unique person to replace what we’ve watched for the last two decades [in Yadier Molina],” said Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak. “After enjoying dinner last night together, it became very clear he truly wanted to be a Cardinal.”

Contreras joins a list of more than 300 players to have donned a Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

He’s the first to sign a free agency deal with St. Louis after a Cubs season since Dexter Fowler in 2017, the first to sign a free agency deal after spending the rest of his previous career with the Cubs since Ryan Theriot in 2011 and the first catcher to join the Cardinals from the Cubs since Joe Girardi in 2003.

“I appreciate the opportunity they gave me to become a professional baseball player,” said Contreras. “Chicago has a special place in my heart, but now I’m looking forward to beating the Chicago Cubs.”

His first opportunity to do so will be May 8, 2023 at the Friendly Confines. The Cardinals also head to London in late-June for a two-game series against the Cubs next season.

Contreras shared more about his excitement for joining the Cardinals in his story on The Players’ Tribune titled “Let’s Do This, St. Louis!” He calls the new opportunity one of the greatest honors of his entire life.