Willson Contreras has been on a couple rehab trips to Iowa over the years, and it seems like we always see stuff about him being an awesome dude while he’s down there.
That’s not to say other dudes aren’t great, but instead is only to say Willson ALWAYS does this kind of stuff:
Willson Contreras, not in the lineup tonight with the @IowaCubs but still here in Indy on MLB Rehab, is the only player for either team signing autographs and taking pictures with fans 45 minutes before the game.
That’s pretty freakin’ pro of him. pic.twitter.com/GAzWRZAEcS
— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen) September 2, 2021
You figure Contreras will be back with the big league team soon, coming off the rehab for his minor knee injury, and then the questions about his future will resume. Contreras, who turns 30 in May, is under team control for just next season. We’ve talked at length about the trade-or-extend decision the Cubs and Contreras face this offseason, and that conversation is only going to pick up steam as the season winds down.
In an interview with NBC Sports Chicago, Contreras spoke to the extension question, and reiterated that he’s open to it, but he also wants to know what the Cubs’ plan is for the next few years before he commits the theoretically best-remaining years of his starting career.
There’s a whole lot more in here, too:
“The culture starts in the clubhouse for sure. Everything starts there. The chemistry that we have, or that we want to have, it has to be for 365 days. It can’t be for 120 days and then not for another 80 days.”
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) September 2, 2021
Contreras confirmed that there weren’t any extension talks this season with him, which is not surprising considering the Cubs’ focus on reshaping the roster via the sell-off at the deadline. I think the extension talks with Contreras, if they didn’t happen last offseason, were pretty much always going to come this coming offseason, likely after the CBA is settled. I tend to think the Cubs would be very happy to retain Contreras for a few more years, but I also think there will always be caution about catchers in their 30s.
I won’t be naive and tell you there’s no chance the Cubs trade Contreras this offseason. If they feel there’s significant value to be had, and if extension talks prove fruitless, then it’s basically just a version of the conversation that happened in July with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javy Báez.
But *if* that were to happen, then Mooney is very much correct that it’s pretty hard for the Cubs to sell the idea they aren’t fully rebuilding, because it will be all the more difficult to actually compete in 2022 without Contreras. Impossible? I won’t say that, because we don’t know what else they might do. But you can’t easily replace Contreras.
It would be much more desirable, I would think, to get the Cubs and Contreras on board with an extension that properly balances his value to the team against the risk that his market won’t be as robust as JT Realmuto’s was last winter. At that time, Realmuto was a year younger than Contreras will be next year, may have been coming off a better season, and was a free agent. Realmuto got five years and $115.5M to take him through his age 34 season. Maybe the Cubs and Contreras could come to terms on a deal that approached the Realmuto AAV over a shorter term? Or approached the Realmuto guarantee over a longer term? I think there will have to be some play there, because as we sit here today, I don’t think a Realmuto deal in free agency is an appropriate comp for Contreras a year out from free agency. Willson Contreras should do well on an extension, yes, but I’m hoping for both sides that Realmuto’s deal doesn’t become a hard baseline, because that’ll mean that no deal gets done.
Whatever the framework, I just really like the idea of Contreras being a guy (the guy? together with Kyle Hendricks?) who is in place as the team transitions. He necessarily has critical roles on both the positional side and the pitching side, and I just love his attitude. I could see it playing well on a team that is trying to get back to winning over a multi-year period.
Who knows? Maybe the conversation would’ve looked fundamentally different if top catching prospect Miguel Amaya had broken out this year. As it stands, Amaya had a decent start to the minor league season (still waiting on the power to emerge), but then succumbed to a forearm injury that has had him out for the last two months. I don’t know that there’s optimism he’ll return this year. If Amaya, who is already on the 40-man roster, were looking like a clear big league starter – if that were even possible for him to prove at Double-A this year – maybe you are more cautious in approaching Contreras. But it’s all academic now, because there is no reason to count on Amaya definitely being the Cubs’ starting catcher in 2023 (much less 2022 if you started talking about a Contreras trade). You hope he’s a big leaguer by then. A great one. But you cannot create an organizational strategy around that idea.