Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras to the IL is just the latest gut punch

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

If nothing else, Willson Contreras has been an absolute workhorse behind the plate this season for the Chicago Cubs, leading all of baseball with 793 innings caught. But after tweaking his knee in drills recently, he’ll get to take a load off while on the 10-day IL.

Losing Contreras surely won’t help Chicago snap its eight-game skid, but at this point, you might as well just embrace the suck and keep your eyes on the reverse standings as they correlate to position in next summer’s MLB Draft. Trotting out Austin Romine, regardless of how nice a moment it was to watch his brother, a position player, pitch to him in a blowout, was, isn’t going to do much for the team – that’s for sure.

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Contreras, the last piece of the core standing following Jed Hoyer’s fire sale two weeks ago, hasn’t put up the offensive numbers we’ve grown accustomed to this year. He’s batting just .226 – more than 30 points below his career mark – but is still an above-average offensive presence, thanks to a decent on-base approach and solid power. His 17 home runs are tied for fourth-most among all big league backstops.

According to Fangraphs, the two-time All-Star has also taken a step backward with his glovework, grading out his framing as below-average once again after he showed a notable improvement in that area last summer. Still, he’s easily the most valuable player the Cubs have on the roster – and also represents one of the biggest question marks moving forward.

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With Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez as good as gone (not just for the next two months, but potentially for good), a lot of fans want to see Hoyer extend Contreras before he enters a lame duck season and potentially winds up on the chopping block come next July.

Whether or not the front office takes that approach remains to be seen. There’s no doubt this team belongs to Contreras, but ponying up long-term, high-dollar deals to a backstop heading into his 30s is always risky.

Given the injury to catching prospect Miguel Amaya, which is expected to end his 2021 season, there’s not a clear answer in the ranks if the team doesn’t head into next year with Contreras embedded behind the dish. That’s not to say there isn’t depth in the organization, but it’s largely at the lower levels.

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For the time being, it’ll be Romine and Robinson Chirinos handling catching duties. From the sound of it, Contreras should be back as soon as his IL stint is up – so at least that’s good news.