Willson Contreras’s Wonderful Moment and Future with the Chicago Cubs

If you haven’t seen it by now, it’s worth taking in the truly special moment from the outset of last night’s Cubs-Braves game, when brothers Willson and William Contreras got to meet at home plate to exchange lineup cards.

It was extremely touching and sweet and pure and all that other overly flowery language that, in this case, is actually true:

Two brothers who’ve supported each other through so much, who’ve traveled from afar to make a new home, who’ve succeeded together at the highest levels, and who clearly love each other so much. It just made me happy to see. Admission, it made me realize I hadn’t talked to my brother in a while so I gave him a call.

Contreras spoke about the moment after the game, and it was just as emotional:

The moment, for Contreras, was about even more than just being there with his brother in the big leagues. It was the culmination of a lifetime of effort – he was just so proud of William:

The whole thing had me thinking about Willson Contreras’s future with the Cubs, and maybe it crossed his mind, too, given what he’s said in the past about reaching free agency – about that, too, because the culmination of a dream when you make it to the big leagues. These kinds of moments, I think, understandably have you checking in with yourself about the future. For us fans, it was a reminder of how special Contreras has been for this organization, how long he’s been around – signed 13 years ago! – and how things might go over the next few months.

We know that Contreras is due to be a free agent at the end of the year. We know that extension talks have been non-existent for years. We know the organization is turning the page in a lot of ways, and it’s not clear whether they intend for Contreras – at his expected price tag, and in his 30s – to be a part of that. It makes me sad to think about it. Whether it’s the Trade Deadline or simply after the season, it’s highly likely that Contreras will be departing.

As for the wisdom of that approach, I have my doubts. While I understand a reticence to commit huge money to a catcher of Contreras’s age and usage, I also look ahead and have a very hard time seeing what the Cubs will do in 2023 at the position in the alternative. Miguel Amaya is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has barely even played at the Double-A level. Yan Gomes turns 35 this year, and is more of a very-high-quality back-up than a starter. The free agent market is consistently thin for catchers. You can’t count on trades. And so on and so forth.

I will point out something that Sahadev Sharma pointed out in the latest Athletic mailbag, though, and I’ll wonder openly if this is a sense he’s getting from the organization about the Contreras decision:

Could the Cubs re-sign Contreras? Sure, they could determine that he makes sense to pursue aggressively after the season. I think that’s a long shot now. But it’s important for fans to understand how Hoyer and his group look at things. This front office isn’t one for sentimentality. They made that clear with last summer’s sell-off and the general lack of interest they showed in re-signing any of those stars in the offseason ….

(The Cubs) know it’s hard to find offensive production from the catching side and they believe the DH and a solid backup can help Contreras get to another level offensively. But he’s also weeks away from turning 30. Is this a group that’s going to pay market price for Contreras?

Another point: Are the best teams in baseball going away from investing big money in catchers? Here is a list of the catchers who were the main backstops for teams that made a League Championship Series the last three seasons: Travis d’Arnaud, Martín Maldonado, Christian Vazquez, Will Smith, Austin Barnes, Michael Perez, Mike Zunino, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos, Gary Sánchez, Austin Romine and Yadier Molina.

The closest you get to a star is Molina — a unique situation in St. Louis — and maybe Smith, a homegrown product with the Dodgers. The Sánchez situation didn’t work out in the end in New York. The rest of these catchers are mostly just solid defenders who know how to handle their pitching staffs and have the respect of the entire team. The same can be said of Contreras, no doubt, but at what cost? Fans don’t need to ask that question, but Hoyer and company will be. In the end, they may believe that investing that money on a front-line starter or a different impact bat may be the best direction.

If there is a reasonable plan at catcher that becomes clear next offseason, I will be able to better understand decisions related to Contreras. And Sharma’s point about the types of catcher’s who’ve been on championship-level teams recently is well-taken. You don’t have to have a huge impact bat at catcher to succeed. And maybe Contreras is projected by the Cubs to age poorly at the plate in any case. It’s all possible.

The front office is not one for sentimentality. I get that. I suppose, as fans, we don’t always have that luxury. Being sentimental about teams and players is kinda like 50% of the point of fandom. It’s why moments like last night are so touching in the first place.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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