Cubs: Taking stock of the current Willson Contreras situation

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

For what felt like the hundredth time, Cubs fans at Wrigley Field said goodbye to longtime catcher Willson Contreras this weekend as the offseason approaches with his future very much up in the air.

We already know there are no active extensions talks between the organization and Contreras, nor has there been at any point up till now. Odds are the Cubs will offer the three-time All-Star a qualifying offer at season’s end, worth somewhere in the realm of $19 million, and he’ll likely decline.

Where things get tricky is the fact that this means the Cubs are not only not looking to extend him, but it seems apparent they don’t have interest signing him in free agency unless his market and value totally craters. In short, the only way Contreras is coming back to the Cubs is on that one-year deal via qualifying offer.

A qualifying offer is the only path forward for Cubs, Willson Contreras

Given the lack of extension talks between both parties, it almost seems as if the Cubs would rather he say no to that QO and receive a compensatory draft pick. Before we dive too far into the details, let’s be sure all our ducks are in a row here and remember how all this has come about.

If you’ll recall, the Cubs looked to move Contreras at the deadline and failed to do so because they didn’t get they believed was the right return for him. However, if you’re not looking to extend or re-sign him, getting anything is obviously better than letting him walk for nothing. We can take an educated guess that Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins felt the offers came in below what they value that comp pick at – which is telling.

Not trading Contreras at the deadline was a questionable decision, at best, by the front office for more than one reason. Like I said, for starters, the trade value of Contreras would have more than likely been higher than what you’re getting in a compensation pick unless you happen to strike gold. Furthermore, with no extension talks, it’s clear you’re not looking to extend or re-sign him, which means if he takes the QO, you’re more than likely paying him more next year than you would have if you extended him in the first place. You might not be locked into a multi-year deal, but you’re still tying up dollars on a guy you’ve made clear you’re not looking to keep around.

All you’re doing by tying Contreras to a qualifying offer this winter is hindering his earning potential in his first foray into free agency. At this point, if I’m Hoyer, I’d rather Contreras just accept the qualifying offer and still spend big money in free agency anyway knowing both Contreras’ $19 million and Jason Heyward’s $22 million come off the books after 2023.

Of course, what we all really want to see is the Cubs go after a Trea Turner/Xander Bogaerts/Carlos Correa type of player while adding to the top of the starting rotation. Making major signings at both shortstop and in the rotation is a tall enough task as it is. Sure, imagining a lineup of Nico Hoerner, Turner, Ian Happ, Seiya Suzuki and Contreras at the top is a full glass of “yes, please,” but would Tom Ricketts really be willing to spend on two star free agents while also taking on the $19 million for Contreras – I doubt it.

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The alternative is that you don’t offer Contreras a qualifying offer and let him walk, but at that point it’s actually embarrassing how poorly the situation was handled. One thing seems for sure, whatever happens with the Cubs in free agency, this situation will be one hurdle to be cleared before the other dominos can fall.