A Willson Contreras trade has felt like fait accompli for a while now, with predictions of his imminent departure dating back to last season. He has said multiple times that he’s not had extension talks with the Cubs and has even talked about free agency being a “dream come true,” though that’s more about the concept of being a highly sought-after player than it is leaving the only organization he’s ever known.
Loyalty factors heavily for Contreras and he’s said many times that he would prefer to remain in Chicago, something he reiterated as strongly as possible during Monday’s All-Star Game media availability.
“But to be honest I don’t feel like this is gonna be my last with a Cubs uniform,” Contreras said. “I don’t know why. I haven’t had talks with the team, I haven’t had anything, but it’s just a feeling that I have that this is not gonna be my last one with the Cubs. It’s something that I’ve been feeling throughout the year.”
Taken at surface level, and perhaps skimming over what’s probably the most important part of the statement, this seems like a very strong hint that something could be afoot. Until you take into account the reality that Contreras and the Cubs have not yet had contract talks with the trade deadline less than two weeks away. It’s hard to imagine the team playing a game of procedural chicken and planning to sign their superstar as a free agent this offseason.
Hell, that kind of supreme confidence — or is it recklessness? — might make Jed Hoyer even more likely to trade Contreras. I mean, c’mon, you reap the rewards of a trade and then get your stud catcher back a few months later? That’s 4D chess, my friends.
As fun as it is to imagine the Cubs being able to pull off that kind of move, similar to what the Yankees did with Aroldis Chapman following the 2016 season, we probably shouldn’t go thinking Contreras is suggesting as much. He was very much in his feelings Monday afternoon, what with his younger brother William joining him at the festivities as a fellow starter and facing the distinct possibility that his Cubs career is at a close, so sentimentality was clearly coloring his words.
Contreras asked for the ball from his single in the 8th inning of Sunday’s game, a sign to many that he believed it may have been his last as a Cub. It’s entirely possible the hopeful feelings he expressed were born of true optimism, but it’s just as likely he’s saying what any player in his position is expected to say. As evidence of that latter angle, the catcher was a bit more pragmatic as the questions continued.
“I feel like Chicago will always be my home even if I end up playing in a different city,” Contreras shared. I’m just proud that everything that I did, that I’ve been doing for the Chicago Cubs for the last 14 years.”
He talked about wanting to be happy, which is about more than just winning. It’s a sense of comfort and having a place where the fans have his back, which he indicated was most certainly the case in Chicago.
“No matter what the future holds, no matter what the outcome is, I will always feel that I will always be able to come to Chicago and play there or even live there,” Contreras said. “Who doesn’t love Chicago, right? I just have a feeling that this is not gonna be my last time with the Chicago uniform.”
As much as I’d love to take all of this at face value and say it sounds like Contreras would be willing to work out an extension tomorrow, or that he’d be willing to negotiate a new deal with the Cubs rather than test full free agency, I just can’t buy that. It’s not that I think this is all just lip service because I do think Contreras is sincere, it’s that the ship appears to have sailed and he’s letting everyone know it wasn’t his choice to remain on shore.
It doesn’t make sense to burn bridges or paint himself as a malcontent when it comes to the offseason, so he’s being very diplomatic about the whole thing. The Cubs should have every opportunity to bring him back into the fold and they might even have an advantage, but I think Contreras is offering a tacit goodbye to fans as he nears the end of this particular leg of his baseball journey.