Cubs Insider

Cubs should start trying now to lock up Contreras

Cubs Insider
Contreras

Maybe the ship has sailed on a possible extension for Kris Bryant. Cubs teammate Anthony Rizzo strongly suggested that was the case for him, too, as the season opened.

And now it appears that Javy Báez believes the floor for any extension starts somewhere north of $180 million, based on an ESPN report saying the All-Star shortstop turned down an offer in that “range” before last season — before struggling mightily during last year’s short season and into the early going of this season.

So where do the Cubs go from here?

Maybe they should get started now on the catcher who started the last two All-Star games for the National League.

Willson Contreras probably isn’t going to keep up the 58-homer pace he established with his power surge over the past week. Probably.

But what’s certain is that he’s an elite catcher both as a hitter and an increasingly skilled defender/receiver — the rarest commodity in baseball this side of a bona fide, power-pitching ace.

And this: He can become a free agent after next season.

“If you look around the league, it’s just extremely difficult [to find that],” said Cubs manager David Ross, an highly skilled defensive catcher in his playing career (and career .229 hitter).

“Those guys that can really produce on both sides of the ball get paid some of the most amount of money in our game. It’s a really hard skill set to find.”

 

How much?

Since future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina has aged into his decline years, J.T. Realmuto has been the catcher perhaps most often mentioned among the best in the game at the position.

Realmuto just signed a catcher-record five-year, $115.5 million deal with the Phillies — with the same number of All-Star appearances as Contreras, one Gold Glove compared to Contreras’ 2020 top-three finish and at an age 14 months older than Contreras.

“If they come to me and want to talk about it, I’m open to it,” Contreras, 28, said early this spring, telling NBC Sports Chicago late in camp that the club still had not approached him about an extension.

“I’ve been with this [organization] for 13 years now. It’s going to make me feel good if they have that in mind, for sure.”

It’s time to start making Contreras feel good.

Wherever the Cubs’ roster goes from here — blown up at the deadline, tweaked for a try at a quick return to a competitive window — Contreras is a fit.

Beyond the skills, he brings a team in transition a growing veteran influence in the clubhouse, a role model for work ethic and a competitive fire he wears on his sleeve — along with that elbow guard that keeps getting hit by pitchers.

“It’s a rare skill set. And I’ve seen him really continue to mature in so many ways in those areas,” Ross said. “This guy is as passionate and hard working as anybody we have. And he’s got the nickname ‘Killer’ around here because he’s got that killer instinct.”

Ross said the fact Contreras kept his poise during his and the rest of the lineup’s early struggles, especially as he started getting hit by pitches at a league-leading rate, showed a “glimpse” into his focus and maturity that led to his breakout over the last week.

“He just continued to have his at-bats,” Ross said. “And it turned around pretty fast.”

He downplayed the Brewers’ aggressive inside pitching against him in two of the Cubs’ first three series, including the flash point Tuesday that seemed to ignite his power surge.

“That’s already in the past,” he said. “I don’t think that has anything to do with how I’m feeling at the plate right now. I’m just looking to control my emotions, be a leader and play the way I’ve been playing this week.”

Only thing left is to pay the guy.

Either that or give him the key to the building so the last core guy out the door can turn out the lights and lock up.

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