Cubs Insider

Contreras seeks ‘somewhere that I’m wanted’ in free agency

Cubs Insider

Over the summer, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looked at team’s roster and said he didn’t believe the team was especially close to turning a competitive corner.

A few months more of baseball and, well, not much has changed.

“It’s still the same,” he said. “I know we have a future. I know we have a really good farm system. But instead of getting close to winning, it’s still going to [be] a lot of work to do. And I’m being honest.”

Honest enough that he may also have offered a glimpse into why there’s little chance he accepts a qualifying offer — or signs back with the Cubs once he becomes a free agent.

Sources close to both sides have suggested neither will close the door on a reunion until seeing how the free agent market plays out.

But Contreras made at least one thing clear as he returned from the injured list Tuesday and spoke to media for the first time in weeks:

When it comes to free agency, security and winning take a backseat to something that has been missing with the Cubs for at least the past year.

“For me, it’s more like a feeling that I’m wanted,” he said. “I’m going to be somewhere that I’m wanted, and [where] I feel they’re going to appreciate what I do on the field and off the field. A place that appreciates what I bring to the clubhouse and what I can do.”

 

This wasn’t a knee-jerk response.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it, with my free agency,” he said. “I know what I want for sure.”

That includes thinking about some other teams (Cardinals?) he might like or that might consider him a fit and thinking about some parameters such as contract length.

“At the same time, I don’t control the market,” he said. “I think the market will speak for itself, and we’re going to adjust to it and see what happens. But [as far as] what I want, I know what I want.”

Since the Cubs aggressively shopped him at the trade deadline and put him through an emotional wringer only to decline offers (because they didn’t “exceed the player’s value”), Contreras’ value may have gone up with announced rules changes coming next year.

That includes bigger bases and step-off limits for pitchers that figure to incentivize teams’ running games — and add a premium for catchers who can help mitigate that with arms and skillsets like Contreras’.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said of how that might impact his value. “At this point I can’t give you an answer.

“I’m here. I’m living in the present, and whatever comes next I’m ready for it.”

That includes a second chance at a final goodbye to Wrigley Field and the fan base after returning from an ankle injury he suffered in August and originally tried to play through.

And that might not be the worst outcome for Contreras, even for a guy who repeatedly expressed in the past a desire to stay with the Cubs long-term.

An emotional roller-coaster of a season that included zero extension talks and the Cubs taking his arbitration process to the brink of a June hearing gave Contreras an advanced education in the harsher aspects of the business of baseball.

And if one former teammate is right, he might even find just as green pastures on the other side.

“Free agency’s a whole ‘nother story, where he’s going to be able to go in and listen to the teams and hear what they say,” said Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber, the National League’s home run leader and a two-time All-Star in the two seasons since the Cubs non-tendered him over relative chump change.

“It could be the Cubs that come back; you never know. But I doubt it,” Schwarber said. “But he gets to go in there and listen to teams and see how they value him.”

Schwarber, who wound up with a $10 million deal for one year with the Nationals and then a $79 million deal for four with the Phillies after the Cubs’ decision, said he got a lot of value out of the fresh start and fresh perspective — despite how much he loved being in Chicago.

 

“He’s going to have the decision at the end of the day where he wants to go,” Schwarber said of what awaits Contreras. “You’re stepping away from the only place you’ve known your whole career. But there could be something else on the other side, which could be really good.”

Meanwhile, Contreras has his honest evaluation of where the Cubs are in their timeline, how much work they need to do to add a veteran “balance” to the youth coming through the system to have anything even approaching the kind of team that had all that success when Contreras arrived in 2016.

Work that only increases when the Cubs are faced with back-filling the sizable shoes of their impact, All-Star catcher.

If Contreras’ assessment of the state of the rebuild hasn’t changed in the last few months, consider his assessment of his upcoming free agency upon his arrival to spring training in March:

“It would be like as dream coming true. … It would be fun to have that experience.”

Whether Contreras’ dream becomes the Cubs’ nightmare scenario (Cardinals?), Schwarber has an idea, first-hand, how it’ll turn out.

“He’s going to be fine,” Schwarber said.

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