WASHINGTON — After the Friday Purge that laid waste to the Cubs’ core, the last homegrown player still standing from the 2016 championship said he’s decided he wants to stick around and help lead the rebuilding effort on the field into the next competitive window.
No matter how long that might take, apparently.
Which might be surprising to some, considering that was a distinct contrast from Willson Contreras’s thoughts on the subject in May.
Asked then if he would want to sign an extension before becoming a free agent next year if the team were rebuilding, he told NBC Sports Chicago that decision would hinge on a “deep evaluation” of the team’s timeline after a “long discussion” with the front office.
The day after a trade deadline that wiped out one-third of the Opening Day roster — including All-Stars core guys Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant in the span of about 20 hours — Contreras seemed to have made that evaluation, if not had that discussion.
“I would love to stay here. I love Chicago. I love my city. I love the team,” said the two-time All-Star catcher — whose long-term status with the club could be an indicator of the rebuild’s direction, if not the timeline
“This is the only team that I’ve played for, and if they want to rebuild around me, I’m open to talks,” he said. “I’m not going to say I’m not, because I love my team. Any decisions they’re going to make with me, I’ll be open. And who knows?”
One discussion he has had with bosses involved manager David Ross, who said he met with both Contreras and veteran Jason Heyward Saturday in the aftermath of all the departures to discuss the changes and leadership responsibilities.
Ross said he planned to have a similar talk with veteran pitcher Kyle Hendricks after Hendricks’ start Saturday night against the Nationals.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a leap for Contreras to let thoughts creep into his head that perhaps he could be the next one traded this winter or next season before he were to become a free agent.
“I’m not thinking about getting moved or getting traded,” he said. “I’m thinking of guiding these [young] guys in the right way. I’m trying to be the leader, and I’m going to do my best.
“I know that I cannot assume the role of a leader, but I’m not thinking of getting traded or anything like that. I’m just playing my baseball and trying to guide these guys.”
The flurry of trades and sudden elevation in clubhouse stature for Contreras comes less than three weeks after Contreras made headlines by publicly, and accurately, criticizing the team’s effort in a loss to the Cardinals.
The Cubs were five games under .500 entering play Saturday, and if they don’t rebound to finish with a winning record it will be a first in Contreras’ six-year career — which has included a rare starting role as a rookie catcher in the World Series among four playoff seasons.
Despite team president Jed Hoyer’s admission Friday that “I don’t know what we’re going to do” specifically, Contreras didn’t seem concerned Saturday about how long it might take to get back to the playoffs.
“I see a lot of talent on this team,” he said. “And obviously, probably, they’re going to add some more during the offseason. But who knows? You ask me about getting an extension. I’m open to it. My door has always been open. Whenever they want to talk, I’ll be open, with my agents. And I’m just looking forward to keep playing baseball.”
Whether the sudden exodus of all three walk-year core players had an impact on Contreras’ thinking Saturday compared to May, it was at least a “really surprising” eye-opener.
“They’ve been tough,” he said of the last 48 hours. “It was really tough to see my brothers go. But at the end of the day this is a business, and we all have to understand the front office will do whatever they think is better for the team.
“The moves were made, and there is no looking back, and there is no regrets. From now on, we have to move forward and rebuild this team.”