Cubs: Lockout makes trading or extending Willson Contreras challenging

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Under normal circumstances, Jed Hoyer and the Cubs would have spent the last few months plotting a course forward when it comes to two-time All-Star backstop Willson Contreras. That means either getting in a room with his camp and hammering out an extension or fielding trade offers in a winter that has a very weak catcher’s market.

Instead, none of that has happened because of the ongoing MLB lockout. When and if it ends and the league and MLBPA agree on a new CBA, teams will be under the gun to finish months of work in a matter of days. According to a report from The Athletic (subscription required), that could make it even more difficult to get anything done involving Contreras before the season starts.

Sahadev Sharma says he has no reason to believe the groundwork has been laid yet for either a trade or an extension, which puts the Cubs in a very unenviable spot to open the year: with a lame-duck player on the roster without any sort of long-term plan in place.

Contreras is still definitely one of the better catchers in the league. He’s not elite by any stretch, but there aren’t alternative options out there for Chicago to pivot to while expecting anywhere close to the same level of production.

The team inked veteran Yan Gomes to a two-year deal with an option for a third early in the offseason – but we’ve heard multiple reports in the wake of that move that Hoyer wanted someone to help lessen the load on Contreras – and that the signing wasn’t any form of writing on the wall for the Venezuelan-born fan favorite.

Will the Cubs and Willson Contreras agree to a long-term extension?

Last season, Contreras batted .237/.340/.438 for the Cubs – and was the last member of the core left standing following the trade deadline sell-off that saw Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo all depart the organization. He was far and away the team’s most valuable piece, accumulating 4.1 bWAR on the year.

Despite his impact, Contreras and the organization haven’t come anywhere close in extension talks, even as the Cubs’ minor league catching depth has weakened dramatically. Former top prospect Miguel Amaya is a huge question mark – and, come next year when he returns from Tommy John, will be three-plus years removed from carrying any sort of measurable workload.

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Even if Chicago takes a similar deadline sell-off approach again in 2022, getting anywhere near the same level of value in a trade as they might have under typical offseason conditions will be tough. There are questions that can’t be answered until the new CBA is hammered out, too, adding another layer of uncertainty and confusion that already had both in spades.