Sometimes a hug is just a hug. And sometimes you don’t know it for a week.
Today, at the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline, it’s what the Chicago Cubs did NOT do that is so jarring. Despite all the rumors, all the buildup, and – at least in one case – all the logic, the Cubs did not trade Willson Contreras or Ian Happ.
The prevailing sentiment on this one is, I suspect, going to be a weird mix of happiness that two enjoyable players are not gone, but also frustration that this may not have been the best organizational outcome.
Let me dispense with Happ first, because it’s the easier one: remember, Happ being on the market at all was just a matter of the Cubs being opportunistic. His value is high. They might be able to cover his loss in 2023. See if someone blows you away. That did not happen. And the Cubs will gladly carry him forward into their outfield mix in 2023, unless I suppose a trade pops up in the offseason. Leave that bridge for a later date. All that matters today is that not trading Happ is really not all that surprising or troublesome when you step back.
With Contreras, it’s a much tougher calculus and emotional throughline. So much tougher that I’m going to publish this post so that people can see what did not happen, and I’m going to update with my fuller thoughts in a moment.
The shock of it is so fresh and so complete that I’m probably not going to frame this perfectly on the fly. This is not what I expected, and trying to sort through it in words while I’m on hour 36 of the Blogathon is not easy.
If the Cubs were not going to extend Willson Contreras, and there has not been an indication that they were interested in that for years, then there was no excuse not to trade him. It appears to be a failing.
The Cubs no doubt set an aggressive price on Contreras, and held fast to it throughout trade season, both in the hopes that they would get their price and to assure other teams that they will not blink. The offers must not have been particularly compelling, so the Cubs now keep Contreras.
That means no addition of prospects at this time. More unfortunate for Contreras, it means the Cubs will likely make him a Qualifying Offer after the season, which will tie him to draft pick compensation. That might crush his market. After all, this is a guy who apparently did not merit an acceptable trade offer at the deadline. Is it not possible that the market just isn’t as hot for Contreras – now or in free agency – as the Cubs would have hoped?
So that, in turn, makes you wonder if the Cubs will even make Contreras a Qualifying Offer in the first place. Because if they do, he might accept. And maybe a one-year deal at $18 million or so sounds like a fine move for the Cubs, but I’m not convinced the Cubs want to extend this relationship at all. Has anything in their behavior the last few years suggested they do? I’m not trying to make a value judgment on that decision – maybe they are among the organizations that now feel like Contreras is more DH than catcher – I’m just trying to point out that if the Cubs do in fact feel this way, it was all the more inexcusable not to trade him today.
It’s possible that they do not make Contreras a Qualifying Offer, they do not get draft pick compensation, and now Contreras walks away for nothing. It’s not the worst outcome for him, given that it’ll help his market, but then we know how much he wants to stay with the Cubs. So maybe walking away, even untethered from draft pick compensation, is still a bad outcome.
So where does that leave us?
Well, as fans, we get to enjoy Contreras’s presence for a while longer. I can certainly get on board with that part. But it’s going to be awkward as hell thinking about the mini farewell tour that didn’t lead to anything other than needless discomfort.
For the Cubs, who knows. Maybe they’ve had a change of heart and they DO want to sign Contreras to a multi-year deal. And maybe they weighed that against what they viewed as weak trade offers, and decided that they could now take all this information to Contreras and say, hey, maybe your market won’t be great if you’re attached to a Qualifying Offer, but we’d love to keep you for another three years or whatever.
Nothing that we’ve seen so far suggests that’s what will happen. But then, nothing we saw this year suggested the Cubs would not trade Contreras at the deadline. So my whole axis is thrown off kilter right now. It’s gonna take some time to regroup on this one, and figure out where the Cubs want to go, where Contreras wants to go, and where it makes sense from a fan perspective to want them to go together.
Oy. Man. This is not what I thought I’d be writing today.