At this point, you would have to wade into the deepest depths of hopeful Cubs fandom to find someone who thinks Willson Contreras and the Chicago Cubs will agree to a new contract this offseason. It’s not impossible – Jed Hoyer mentioned that the sides would still have talks – but it is not the expectation. Far from it.
Instead, the only plausible reunion would be the 5% chance that Contreras and his reps decide the best deal for him is to accept the Qualifying Offer the Cubs will make him, and then hit the market again next year unattached to draft pick compensation.
It is far more likely that Contreras’s reps discern from the market that there will be a decent multi-year offer out there, he rejects the Qualifying Offer, and ultimately signs elsewhere.
Bob Nightengale told NBC that the Cubs “have no intention” of retaining Contreras at this point. “He’s gone, for sure. The Cubs really had no interest in keeping him,” Nightengale said.
Firm language. I think the report might be overstating things a bit, especially with the Qualifying Offer still to be resolved – the Cubs would almost certainly be perfectly happy to have Contreras back on a one-year, $19-ish million deal. That’s just good value. But I do think the sides parting ways is, of course, the smart bet at this point. It has been for a long time.
Since we’re on the topic of the unlikely long-term return of Contreras, I thought it was interesting to share a nugget from Bruce Levine on what was apparently the last long-term talks the sides had about a deal:
Hoyer wouldn’t put all his cards on the table, but it’s become clear the Cubs don’t view the 30-year-old Contreras as their catcher of the future. The Cubs haven’t offered Contreras a long-term contract since 2018, when they extended a five-year deal worth $40 million with other incentives built in to make it a bigger deal, a source said.
“The team has been in constant communication with Contreras asking what he wanted,” a source said. “They love his past contributions and his energy, but they have not offered a long-term contract to him since 2018. It’s obvious he will move on and get paid elsewhere.”
Contreras was in just his second full season in 2018, still a couple years away from arbitration. A five-year deal that started in 2018 would’ve run through only his arbitration years, so I’ve gotta assume there was a team option or two tacked onto the end AND/OR the five-year deal actually didn’t start until the following year, and thus would’ve picked up a free agent year. Sure, you like having cost certainty, but I don’t see the Cubs guaranteeing $40 million to a second year player unless they’re getting some extra potential team control on the back end. So I tend to think it was probably his arb years, a free agent year, and then maybe an option or two.
If that’s right, then here’s a crazy thing: Contreras made just about $21 million through his arbitration years, and if he were to accept the Qualifying Offer … it would be a total of $40 million through that first year of free agency. Did the Cubs seriously nail the price tag THAT precisely four+ years ago?
In any case, it looks like it was a pretty reasonable offer given how things played out, but Contreras can still top it if he lands a strong, multi-year deal in free agency.