For the arbitration-eligible players and teams that did not come to an agreement about their 2022 contracts in the offseason, there is now a serious awkwardness: playing a season while an arbitration hearing FOR that season looms.
That’s the current case for Willson Contreras ($10.25 million) and the Chicago Cubs ($9 million), who exchanged arbitration figures for Contreras’s 2022 salary, his final year of team control before hitting free agency this coming offseason. The sides did not reach an agreement, figures were exchanged, and now they have to prepare for a hearing.
Er, well, they don’t *HAVE* to prepare for a hearing, since they could still settle. Any day. Any time. The hearings are reportedly not coming until June, so there’s plenty of time to make a deal.
But apparently that’s not in the planning for the Cubs:
The Cubs are planning for an in-season arbitration hearing vs. Willson Contreras, the All-Star catcher who will always appreciate Opening Day at Wrigley Field: “This place is so special to me that I will always keep it in my heart.” https://t.co/BVoeLU4OjP
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) April 8, 2022
Each side said all the right things about it not being a distraction, and I think that’s probably true, especially since we’re talking about a difference of barely $1 million. (Contreras gets paid at the lower figure for now, and then if he wins his case, the Cubs have to make up the difference, with interest.)
But if it’s such a small difference, why not just end this thing now? Settle in the middle and move on?
Cubs President Jed Hoyer underscored the team’s current policy: once figures are exchanged, the case goes to hearing. Period. Like it or lump it, agree with it or disagree with it, that’s what the Cubs are going to do. The reason you keep and enforce a firm deadline like that is so that it actually has teeth in the future (i.e., next year’s negotiations – “when we say this is a deadline, we mean it is a deadline”). You could argue that this year was an exception because of the weird and condensed timeline, but it doesn’t sound like the Cubs intend to be exceptional at the moment.
And that sure as heck doesn’t bode well for any talks about a long-term deal taking place soon. Hoyer told The Athletic that the two things have nothing to do with each other, and although that might be strictly true, it’s pretty hard to talk about a long-term deal without actively talking about this year’s deal. So if things waited until AFTER the arbitration hearing, well, I just don’t see Contreras and the Cubs reaching an extension agreement just a few months before he hits free agency. He has said, pretty clearly, that if he reaches free agency without a deal, not only is he fine with that, it would be like “a dream come true.” It just isn’t too hard to see how this is going.
It’s really an unfortunate situation, and I remain really uncertain what the Cubs plan to do at the catcher spot in 2023 without Contreras. But I nevertheless expect them to see where things stand with the team come July, and if the Cubs are out of it, they’re going to explore trading Contreras at the deadline. The behavior last year makes that plainly clear.
The chances Willson Contreras is on the 2023 Cubs sure seem minuscule at the moment.