Cubs president Jed Hoyer says he likes Willson Contreras.
“Willson and I get along great,” said the man who has chosen not to engage in extension talks and is expected to trade the best-hitting catcher in the game. “I talk to him almost every day. There’s no tension there.”
If you think he likes Contreras now, you should have seen how much he loved Anthony Rizzo last year. And Kris Bryant. And Javy Báez.
Before dumping all of them in the span of 20 hours ahead of the summer trade deadline.
Contreras knows what’s coming. He said as much again this week in a chat with NBC Sports Chicago. And he said he’s “at peace” with whatever comes next, wherever he lands — at the trade deadline or in free agency beyond that over the winter.
Hoyer said nothing when addressing the media Thursday to suggest anything has changed from the team’s position and the foregone conclusion that Contreras is merely putting himself in position with his strong start to be one of the top bats available before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
They haven’t even been able to avoid arbitration in the two-time All-Star’s final year of eligibility, with Hoyer deciding he’d rather take him to next month’s arbitration hearing than avoid that sometimes contentious process.
“To me, the biggest thing is our relationship is good,” Hoyer said.
Mostly what that means is that Hoyer will have another close, personal friend playing for somebody else on Aug. 3.
In fact, after raving about Contreras’ early production now that the Cubs can keep him fresher because of a quality job-share catcher in Yan Gomes and a DH position in the National League, Hoyer was asked directly if that might change the calculus, if not the decision, when it comes to trying to sign Contreras to a contract extension instead.
“I think we wanted to see that,” Hoyer said, adding much the Cubs wore down Contreras in recent years by overplaying him behind the plate to keep his bat in the lineup. “We wanted to see how this would be if he got more rest. And so far so good.
“I’m going to not answer your question directly but sort of indirectly.”
And in the process leave out the obvious: If the Cubs were unwilling to pay Contreras market value on an extension before what’s fast looking like a third All-Star season, what would make this risk-averse front office and its cost-cutting ownership engage in talks after the value has gone up?
Contreras said he's willing to discuss an extension during the season if the Cubs are.
The Cubs? They’re willing to take him to an arb hearing rather than attempt to close the gap on a $9 million and $10.25 million arbitration filing difference.
So the only question worth asking is when, not if.
And the answer might come in the next four weeks, if not the next two, thanks to a four-week hole they dug that even a three-series win streak hasn’t come close to undoing.
The next seven games against mediocre Arizona and crappy Cincinnati might look like a great opportunity, especially with the projected starting rotation finally intact.
But they’re seven games under .500 after Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Diamondbacks in Marcus Stroman’s five-inning return from the COVID-19-related injured list.
What would it take to not sell at the deadline?
“Same as always,” Hoyer said. “Evaluating where we are, evaluating our division and where we are playoff-wise, and then obviously you’re taking a look into the next few years as well.”
Even if you ignore that part about looking at the future, consider:
After a four-gamer against the Reds next week comes a 23-game gauntlet that includes five against the Cardinals, four each against the Brewers and Padres, three each against the Yankees and Braves and two against the White Sox.
Barring some kind of release-the-Cubs-kraken moment, the for-sale sign could go up by mid-June for a team that already has made a trade during the season (sending Jesse Chavez to Atlanta for Sean Newcomb a month ago).
“There are certain pieces that are quote-unquote rentals that may not be back,” Hoyer said. “But there are certain pieces that you get asked about that are part of your future. You want to think about where you are over the next few years.”
Potential rentals would include pending free agents such as lefty starters Wade Miley and Drew Smyly, veteran closer David Robertson and Contreras. And at least one national writer from New York includes Stroman — who signed a very tradable, three-year, $71 million deal in November — on a list of possible players available to target at the deadline.
Hoyer said he’s already talking to other baseball operations bosses around the league, but only in less formal, non-specific conversations.
“People are getting a sense of what they might need or what they might do,” he said. “We’re not getting anything specific. Just the normal inbound calls.”
Ahead of what’s starting to look like a normal outbound flow of sold-off players during a second lengthy rebuild in a decade.