It seemed for most of the season as though Willson Contreras was a sure bet to be traded by the deadline, then the Cubs surprised the baseball world by hanging onto their catcher when offers didn’t meet their reserve price. The resultant warm fuzzies allowed the perfect incubation chamber for hope that a new deal might yet be struck, and that’s still a possibility, but Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic believes “the Cubs are going in a different direction with catching.”
Those who’ve been watching closely have seen how the starting rotation has improved since the deadline, and that’s with a number of injuries forcing the Cubs to piece things together on the fly. As irresponsible as it would be to give all the credit for that resurgence to Yan Gomes, it’s impossible to dismiss his increased playing time behind the plate as a big factor. There’s a reason they targeted him with a multi-year deal, after all.
While it’s still possible that Contreras accepts the qualifying offer, he’d have to set aside his ego in order to do so. And not just in terms of taking much less than he’d hoped to garner in a multi-year contract, but with his role as well. Contreras would likely see his catching duties scaled back appreciably, with most of his playing time coming as the DH or possibly even first base. Between the role and the bankroll, remaining in Chicago under the QO isn’t a strong possibility.
The only way Contreras would stick around then is if the Cubs offered him a significant long-term deal, something Sharma indicates is not going to happen. Not that it’s the first time they’ve maintained a hard line when it comes to re-signing a veteran player, though they at least managed to extract premium prospects via trade last year.
With Contreras, the only real return the Cubs can hope to get is in the form of a compensatory pick should the catcher reject the QO and sign elsewhere. That probably isn’t as worthwhile as the return he’d have fetched at the deadline, but there are other factors to consider. The first is that the Cubs would be able to effectively offset much of the penalty they’d receive for signing a player who had likewise rejected a QO. Carlos Rodón stands out as a potential name to watch there.
There’s also the matter of reallocating the $9.6 million Contreras is earning this season, though that really only matters if the Cubs get very aggressive with big additions elsewhere. Going with another game manager behind the plate and making significant improvements elsewhere on the roster seems to be the plan. As big a loss as it would be in the lineup and in the clubhouse to let Contreras go, the front office can make up for it with the right moves.