All signs point to the Cubs and Willson Contreras parting ways
Willson Contreras fans, cover your ears for this one. The Chicago Cubs already survived one wave of rumors regarding the team captain and catcher this year, but as the offseason nears, things are going to ramp up as he weighs a qualifying offer. To that end, we’ve heard both reporters connected to the team and Contreras himself comment on his impending free agency and it all seems to point to the fan-favorite leaving the North side this offseason.
First, there’s Sahadev Sharma’s piece over at The Athletic (subscription required) where he comments on the Cubs’ chances of retaining Contreras. Namely, he points out the shift toward Yan Gomes and PJ Higgins behind the dish over their homegrown All-Star, saying the team is likely “going in a different direction with catching.”
It’s not for a lack of hitting or that Contreras is an overall bad catcher. He’s been a great offensive producer throughout his entire career and this year was one of his best with a 132 wRC+. There are just little things that Gomes and Higgins do better from framing to game calling. We’ve mentioned in the past how Gomes’ influence on the pitchers has improved the staff overall and that’s continued all year with the staff sporting a 3.80 ERA with him behind the dish compared to a 4.11 with Contreras. From all accounts, Higgins seems to get high marks as well with added versatility.
Considering how many young pitchers the Cubs are trying to break in, having receivers that do well with game planning can help those arms excel. Moreover, Sharma brought up ego and the desire of a player like Contreras to go somewhere that’ll want his catching talents. There will likely be a team out there willing to give him that security and enough money that he’s willing to reject the qualifying offer if it means he can catch every day. Add in the fact that he’s 30 and it only increases the likelihood of him chasing down security that the Cubs won’t give him.
As if proving Sharma’s point, Contreras’ comments in the Chicago Sun-Times echo those sentiments of wanting to be wanted by a team for all he can do, not just half the package. He’ll still consider the qualifying offer, but with him saying that he doesn’t plan to mull it over for long, it sure sounds like he plans to turn it down if there are any remotely enticing deals.
Willson Contreras doesn’t line up with what the Cubs have planned
It all seems to shine a light on what Jed Hoyer wants to build. Contreras may be at the top of his class overall thanks to his bat, but there is a genuine concern about his defensive abilities that has left both less willing to reunite. It’s that very concern that quashed much of the interest in him at the trade deadline. Pitching may be the name of the game for the next great Cubs team and their wealth of arms will greatly benefit from a defense-first backstop.
Already, we’ve seen plenty of reports detailing what the Cubs really want this offseason – a shortstop and an ace. They’d rather improve in more meaningful ways than spend on a catcher who they see as bat-first. This mindset does beg the question, however, of what the catching situation could look like next year. With Miguel Amaya injured once again, it may mean finding another defensive-minded catcher like Tucker Barnhart, for example, that has a good reputation with pitchers to join Gomes and Higgins.
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For Contreras, it’s ultimately that clash of his want to catch and the Cubs’ want for a different breed of backstop that could spell the end. If this was their mindset the whole time though, it makes the decision not to trade him at the deadline even more baffling. His market will be hurt by the qualifying offer and the team will only gain a compensation pick. No matter how things play out though, he deserves to get paid for what he’s done, even if it’s not by the Cubs.