Cubs Insider

Emotional Contreras: 'I knew it would get to me at some point'

Cubs Insider

Despicable.

That was the word said quietly in the Cubs’ clubhouse Monday night by a media pro on the Cubs beat about the way the Cubs have handled Willson Contreras and his imminent departure by next week’s trade deadline.

There was nothing sarcastic or flip about comment, from a writer who has rarely criticized the team.

There was, however, a lot of truth.

As cold as the business of sports can be, the Cubs have perfected it, which is their prerogative as a private business that must answer to paying customers.

But the bald-faced, two-faced messaging over the years about the value of culture within the organization, about the “Cubs family” and about a mission to try to win championships every year contrasts starkly against a reality that includes multiple years of cost-cutting by one of the biggest-revenue teams in the sport, a repeated willingness to tank to rebuild, a remarkable gift for failed extension offers to homegrown All-Stars, a willingness to then in turn trade fan favorites by the handful, and the gall to charge close to the industry’s top prices for the privilege of sitting through the next cycle of tanking (or whatever Jed Hoyer wants to call the latest rebuild).

Contreras won’t be the first Cubs star to be traded in a deadline dump. He certainly won’t be the last.

And the Cubs aren’t breaking new ground for teams in any sport.

 

But this player at this trade deadline might be the most emblematic of all those contradictions of business practices, messaging and resources.

“I knew it would get to me at some point,” said Contreras during an emotional interview with reporters after Monday’s 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Wrigley Field, talking about his final two days at Wrigley Field. “I wish this day never came.”

Signed as an amateur free agent as a teenager in 2009, Contreras has been in the organization longer than any other core player by far — longer than “face of the franchise” Anthony Rizzo, who was acquired in a trade before the 2012 season and longer even than Javy “El Mago” Báez, who was drafted ninth overall in 2011 (before Theo Epstein and Hoyer took over baseball operations that fall).

He was a third baseman in the minors before the Ricketts family bought the team, a converted catcher before Kris Bryant was drafted, a batting champion at Double-A before Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist were signed, and a five-game World Series starter before he’d made an Opening Day roster in the big leagues.

“It’s been a tough couple days for me,” Contreras said quietly Monday night, his emotions welling up to the surface. “Just tough. …

“I’m trying just to appreciate everything that Wrigley Field is and thinking of all the memories that I have here since 2016,” he added. “From 2009 to now. … It’s probably my last homestand with the fans this year.

“It’s tough. It’s real tough.”

After Tuesday, the Cubs depart for San Francisco and don’t return until after the deadline.

Contreras also is a third-time All-Star starter — one of 10 in franchise history — who is having a breakout offensive season with an assist from a universal DH during a season in which he turned 30 in May.

“He’s a special player. He’s a special man. And he’s done special things here,” said Cubs manager David Ross, a 2016 teammate.

That didn’t stop the Cubs from taking Contreras to within hours of going to an arbitration hearing this year because of the club’s “file and trial” policy — during a season in which the Cubs have massive payroll flexibility, in which they have declined all year to raise extension talks with him, and in which they’ve shown since spring training began an intent to trade him at the deadline (as they did with World Series teammates Rizzo, Báez and Bryant last year).

“It’s about business. I understand that. I respect that,” Contreras said, pausing for a beat or two to collect his thoughts. “I love my team. I love my teammates most. And I don’t want to get too attached to them, because you never know what’s going to happen next week — or this week in San Francisco.”

If the Cubs plan to win anytime soon, Contreras should be there. He has expressed the desire. There’s no reason to think he won’t age well over a five-year deal, given his track record, the DH and his defensive versatility (corner infield).

 

He has transitioned successfully into a leadership role as he has become one of the few championship core players left and represents continuity that has become increasingly rare around this team that went 108 years between championships — you know, that “culture” thing they like to talk about.

Instead, he’s about to transition, probably successfully, to a new team in the coming days, probably in a pennant race.

While the Cubs look for Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team,” whatever — and whenever — that is.

And while the Cubs look despicable.

“It’s been,” Contreras said, “a tough … a tough couple days.”

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