An emotional Willson Contreras stood at his locker Monday night, understanding what awaits him in the coming week.
"This is probably my, probably not, I don't know,” Contreras said, “but probably my last homestand with the fans this year.
“It's tough for me. It's really tough."
It’s long been expected the Cubs will trade their All-Star catcher at the Aug. 2 deadline this season. That makes this week’s two-game series against the Pirates likely Contreras’ last with the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The same may be true for Ian Happ.
“Try to really enjoy the next two days here no matter what and we'll see what happens,” Happ said before the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Pirates.
“I’ve said it and I'll keep saying it: I love playing here in front of these fans, this place. Coming to work here every day is a special. I just want to enjoy that as long as I can.”
But does this have to be it for Contreras and Happ with the Cubs?
The two All-Stars are the Cubs’ top trade chips this season. They represented the organization in Los Angeles last week and are having career years.
Those factors also make them potential building blocks for the “next great Cubs team.”
Let’s look at their individual situations from both sides of the coin with the deadline a week away.
Why Cubs will trade Happ
Happ has been a streaky hitter in his career and gone through extreme peaks and valleys at the plate.
This has been the most consistent big-league campaign, and it led to his first All-Star nod. In 94 games this season, he’s hitting .282/.367/.445.
It’s a continuation of his torrid two-month finish to end 2021 — after a first half in which he looked like a non-tender candidate.
The Cubs can wait until this winter or next summer to make their long-term decision on Happ, who’s under club control through 2023. The final two months this season would give them a full 162-game sample size to evaluate.
But his trade value has never been higher than it is right now.
If the Cubs don’t trust Happ can maintain this season’s production long term, trading him now could be a chance to maximize his 2022 breakout performance.
Why Cubs won’t trade Happ
Have you seen what Happ has done this season?
Sure, he’s putting up career-high numbers across the board. But he's specifically turned a corner in areas he previously struggled.
The switch-hitter is crushing left-handed pitching; his defense in left field has improved, both by the eye test and the metrics.
Happ turns 28 in August. He’s a homegrown talent and former first-round pick who’s having a breakout year.
This season could be the turning point in his career as he becomes someone the Cubs should want to invest in long term.
The timeline for “the next great Cubs team” is unclear. Keeping Happ as a building block adds more certainty to that picture as the Cubs look to get back into contention.
Why Cubs will trade Contreras
Happ’s trade value is at a career-high, but Contreras is the Cubs’ top trade chip as one of the top bats on the market this side of Juan Soto.
Contreras’ production has slowed in July but he’s still hitting .258/.374/.473 with 14 homers and 37 RBIs in 81 games.
He's not only a potential major addition to a team seeking more offensive production from the catcher’s spot, but designated hitter as well.
Contreras and the Cubs haven’t had extension talks this season, so the two sides coming to terms in the next week looks entirely unlikely, if not impossible.
Why the Cubs haven’t approached Contreras, a three-time All-Star starter, has been confounding all season. His fate has looked all but sealed since spring training.
In the scope of that approach, trading him now — rather than losing him for nothing this winter in free agency — allows them to recoup value for the future.
Why they don't see him as part of that future is a question for another day.
Why Cubs won’t trade Contreras
The industry expectation is Contreras will be traded, but in the exercise of playing devil’s advocate, let’s look at this from the other side.
Contreras is in his 14th year in the Cubs organization after signing as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 2009. This is his seventh season with the Cubs, and he’s taken on a leadership role in the clubhouse, including taking rookie Christopher Morel under his wing.
With the universal DH coming to baseball, the Cubs have been able to keep Contreras in the lineup while getting him time off from catching. It’s no coincidence he’s having a career year at the plate.
Contreras could be a cornerstone piece for the Cubs during this rebuild and beyond. He wants to be in Chicago.
It doesn’t look to be in the cards, however, and he’s come to terms with what awaits at the deadline.
"Knowing everything that's happening around, I knew it would get to me at some point,” Contreras said. “I wish this day never came, but it's about business.
“I understand that. I respect that. I love my team. ... You never know what's going to happen next week or this week."