Whatever happens with Willson Contreras in the near-term or long-term, he will continue to be one of my favorite players. I just like the way he plays the game. I like the way he talks about the game. I like the way he worked himself from barely-considered corner infield prospect into a top catching prospect into an All-Star big league catcher.
There’s another reason to really like him, too, now: he’s a veteran leader.
Look at this little slice of Contreras at the Daily Herald:
According to a source, Contreras recently took Miguel Amaya, the Cubs’ top catching prospect, to dinner. Amaya, 23, could miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery Nov. 30. But Contreras implored Amaya to rehab and prepare as much as possible in case Contreras is traded or leaves for free agency, according to the source.
Contreras took his possible replacement to dinner to tell him to make sure to get himself as ready as possible to contribute soon in case Contreras departs, and the opportunity will be there for another player. That’s a guy who cares about the future success of a young player like Miguel Amaya.
It’s also a guy who sounds at peace with his situation, which he suggested last week. We’ve talked all offseason about the possibility of a Contreras trade, now or at the Trade Deadline, and about our own hopes for an extension. Until the Cubs actually engage in those extension talks with Contreras, it’s pretty hard to be optimistic about that as an outcome.
To that point, it’s ironic that Contreras was talking to Amaya about his rehab process, which is going to have him unable to play the catcher position (with the throwing) all season, and hopefully could allow him to DH late in the minor league season. It is for that very reason that it’s pretty hard to know what the Cubs’ catching position is going to look like in 2023 without Contreras. Had Amaya been healthy this year – after missing 2020 for the pandemic, and most of 2021 with the forearm injury – it would’ve been an opportunity to show he could be the catcher of the future, and maybe Contreras-related decisions would be easier. But it’s precisely BECAUSE of the Amaya injury that it is all the more difficult to imagine the Cubs not seriously engaging in extension talks with Contreras (or trading him in a deal that included an immediately-ready catcher, I suppose).
I hope we hear word of those talks soon. Contreras, in his final year of arbitration and a free agent after the season, has to submit his requested arbitration number today (and the Cubs submit theirs). That means the sides will already have a reason to be in financial discussions.
As for Amaya, it’s hard to envision a realistic scenario where he enters the 2023 season the Cubs’ presumed starting catcher. To this point, although he’s been on the 40-man for a while, he’s played just 23 games above High-A. This year, we can HOPE he might get in a couple months of DH duty at Double-A or Triple-A. It’s definitely possible he comes up to the big league team next year as one of the catchers, but the presumed starter next offseason? It’s just really, really hard to see.
Which is not to say I have a clue what the Cubs plan to do at catcher if they trade Contreras or let him walk in free agency. I think the Cubs want to be clearly competitive in 2023 (more so than this year’s “let’s take a shot and see what happens in the first half” approach). Right now, catcher is looking like a huge question market in that plan.