If Cubs Can't Sign Willson Contreras to An Extension, They Will "Almost Certainly Shop Him" This Offseason

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If Cubs Can’t Sign Willson Contreras to An Extension, They Will “Almost Certainly Shop Him” This Offseason

Chicago Cubs

It’s not a new conversation – will the Chicago Cubs extend Willson Contreras, or will they trade him, or will they just let him enter the year as an impending free agent? – but Sahadev Sharma today gives it some very stark framing.

After a discussion on how the Cubs may very well want to extend Contreras, Sharma makes it plain: if there’s no extension, then yes, there will be trade talks this offseason.

But there’s also the question of whether Contreras will even be on this team in 2022. If an extension can’t be reached, Hoyer will almost certainly shop him ….

If a deal can’t be consummated and Hoyer starts looking to move Contreras, the optics would be terrible. Trading their two-time All-Star starting catcher this offseason would send a bad message to fans eager for winning to return to the North Side. Hoyer has been clear that a long rebuild isn’t in the works and that full-on tanking is no longer effective. He could stand by that sentiment firmly if he extends Contreras.

There are probably ways Hoyer could trade Contreras without drastically altering the current timeline to contention, which some would argue is already too long. But that’s what Hoyer and his front office are out to disprove. And for many, one of their biggest signals could be how they handle Contreras.

Again, you already know the stakes here on Contreras, and we’ve long talked about how a reasonable extension pretty clearly makes the most sense for the Cubs. But that’s your first flatly-stated indication that, absent the extension, Hoyer will hit the trade market to see if there’s a buyer out there for Contreras.

I’ll remind you, too, that trading a rental starting catcher in-season is never a great plan, because there are teams that are reluctant to swap in a new starting catcher mid-season. Yes, you’d find buyers in July for a talent like Contreras, but you almost certainly wouldn’t get premium prospects, because your market is going to be constricted. It’s hard to incorporate a new starting catcher with your pitching staff and really get the most out of the guy. Teams know it, and the trade prices reflect it.

Which is to say, I agree not only with Sharma’s read on the situation, but also with the Cubs’ approach. That isn’t to say you HAVE to trade Contreras if there’s no extension, but you do HAVE to explore it. And if there’s a buyer out there willing to pay a premium to get a full cheap year of Contreras, then you really have to think long and hard about it if you’re the Cubs.

I’ll circle back, though, and underscore my previously-stated perspective that an extension makes more sense, given both the Cubs’ intentions to compete in 2022-23, and also the lack of any kind of obvious or effective plan at catcher without Contreras. I know that it’s easier said than done, and we’ve seen very recently how hard it is to align on value in these situations, but I’m hopeful there’s a three or four-year deal that could make some sense – perhaps discussed in tandem with this year’s arbitration raise (Contreras is projected for about $8.7 million in 2022, his final arb year).

Oh, also? If you DO extend Contreras, who turns 30 next year, do me a personal favor, Cubs. GET A QUALITY BACK-UP CATCHER TO SHARE THE LOAD.

More of what I said on this Contreras-trade-extend subject earlier:

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.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.