Chicago Cubs will either extend or trade Willson Contreras this offseason
By Jake Misener
We all know what happens when guys are in their final year of team control. The fog of persistent speculation and uncertainty can settle in, hindering performance and proving costly. Don’t believe me? Just ask the recent Chicago Cubs core – all of whom read the writing on the wall after a devastating 11-game losing streak in late June and early July.
The front office reportedly won’t let that type of thing happen with manager David Ross, who is expected to sign an extension in the coming weeks. The bigger question, though, is what will the Cubs do when it comes to two-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras?
Contreras, who turns 30 next May, is the last man standing on the North Side. Jed Hoyer has but two options now: quickly extend his team’s passionate backstop and emotional leader or put together a trade to maximize the return in a deal.
Sure, the team could let things ride until the trade deadline – but really doesn’t have a reason to do so. This year, the team was in a sort of limbo where holding on to guys like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo made some sense. Hoyer wasn’t going to be the one who took one last chance for a run away from the group that ended a 108-year championship drought.
But heading into 2022, there is no ‘chance’. As currently constructed, this team will not and cannot contend. Of course, you’d think the roster looks different by next spring and you’re probably correct in that assumption. Figuring out a course of action when it comes to Contreras will give the front office clarity early on in the offseason and allow Chicago to chart its course forward from there.
It’s hard to imagine what type of deal Contreras would net. As I mentioned, he’s a catcher heading into his 30s – that’s not a deal-breaker but it’s certainly something you’re aware of in talks. JT Realmuto set the bar for backstops last winter when he re-signed with the Philadelphia Phillies with a five-year, $115.5 million deal (coincidentally heading into his age-30 season, as well).
Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras will get paid – but it won’t be a record deal
Contreras will not land that type of AAV – nor should he – regardless of what his camp believes. Realmuto is clearly the best catcher in the game right now. But that doesn’t mean Contreras will come cheap, either.
Since 2017, the Phillies backstop leads all big league catchers with 21.5 WAR, according to Fangraphs. Meanwhile, Contreras clocks in at less than half that at 9.4. But as I worked through recently, there are few alternatives when it comes to the catching market this winter. That group of free agents is thin and aging – which could make the Venezuelan backstop look even better to the Cubs.
It’s up to Hoyer what the team decides to do with their All-Star catcher. But I suspect they’ll figure out pretty early on which way they want to go in an effort to keep things moving in what looks likely to be a very busy offseason.