Willson Contreras claps back at criticism from Chicago Cubs
While the Chicago Cubs said all the right things publicly in regard to their former starting catcher, Willson Contreras, the team apparently had other opinions to share with Contreras behind the scenes. In a revealing conversation with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Contreras shared his side of where the relationship with the Cubs broke down.
Rosenthal's report cited sources that highlighted the issues that Cubs' manager David Ross had with Contreras.
"Still, Contreras’ approach occasionally frustrated Cubs manager David Ross, a former catcher, and the team’s coaching staff, according to sources with knowledge of the situation who were granted anonymity to speak candidly. Contreras prepared. He worked hard. But he did not always prepare and work in the way the coaches wanted."- Ken Rosenthal via The Athletic
This is not the first time that we have seen a potential rift between Contreras and Ross. During the 2021 season when the Cubs were in the midst of an 11-game losing streak that led to the team tearing down their 2016 World Series winning core, Contreras made comments that questioned some of the work ethic of other players on the team. Ross was quick to renounce those comments from Contreras and framed his rebuttal in a way that made it clear that the manager did not consider his starting catcher to be a leader on the team.
"“Listening to those things, it’s really tough,” Contreras said. “I was there for six years. I prepared myself the same way every day. … I think I did everything right. That’s what I told (the Cubs) the day I walked out of there, that I was going to walk out with my head up high because I know during the six years I was there, I did my best to make everyone better.”"- Willson Contreras via The Athletic
The prominent reason why it is believed that the Cubs were eager to part with Contreras as their catcher was due to the way he handled the team's pitching staff. Cubs pitchers saw more success last season, based on ERA numbers, while being paired with veteran catcher Yan Gomes than they had with Contreras. That would be the reason why the Cubs are entering the 2023 season with a catching tandem of Gomes and Tucker Barnhart.
"“People don’t really know what happened there,” Contreras said. “I had to adjust to the (pitchers). I didn’t want them to do whatever I thought was right. I had to let them be themselves. I didn’t want to be a dictator, tell them what to do. A lot of times, I’d rather them figure out things by themselves.”"- Willson Contreras via The Athletic
The fact that Contreras was not enforcing his game plan would seemingly point to the Cubs being correct in their assessment. Given the pitching infrastructure that the Cubs have, it would seem logical that the team would share a game plan with the catcher and then the catcher would have to enforce that plan when the pitcher is on the mound. Contreras opting to let the pitchers go with their own plan could be part of the reason why the team's pitching staff struggled universally when he was behind the plate.
Where Contreras appears to contradict himself in his conversation with Rosenthal was when he was pressed even further about the criticism over how he calls games.
"“I don’t think it’s accurate,” Contreras said. “You can ask the pitching coach. Obviously, a lot of times, I got off the plan because I saw what was going on in the game. If the pitcher doesn’t have what it takes to execute Plan A, I had to go to Plan B. I know we have technology, and it all helps. But a lot of times, the feelings are really important, too, in the game.”"- Willson Contreras via The Athletic
So, if you are keeping track at home: Contreras preferred to let the pitchers be themselves instead of following the plan that was in place, but then would deter from the plan in-game if the pitcher was struggling because that is his feeling.
Using Contreras' own words, if the pitchers were struggling because he was letting them be themselves then that is not an example of the Cubs' approach being wrong. That is an example of Contreras' approach being wrong.
This is only the beginning of what will probably escalate tensions between Contreras and the Cubs. With Contreras now being a member of the Cardinals, the rivalry between the two teams will likely be an important storyline to follow during the 2023 season.