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Time for Cubs to open extension talks with Contreras

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Pay the man.

At least offer to pay the man.

Willson Contreras deserves that much for what he’s done for the Cubs, definitely for what he’s showing now, and — more to the (data) point — what his talent, performance and makeup suggest he can do for the next five years.

More than that, it’s good business. It’s certainly good for the quality of baseball the Cubs are trying to sell for sticker-shocking face-value prices. And, judging by Twitter, good for fans’ souls.

The other day, Bengie Molina — the eldest of the greatest family trio of catchers in MLB history — considered with awe the likelihood of Willson and little brother William Contreras both making the 2022 NL All-Star team.

“Can you imagine that?” he said.

That would be something the Molina’s never did (Only Yadi among them made an All-Star team).

Might be the best Cubs-related, feel-good story of the year.

Now imagine this:

As that cool story plays out in July, the Cubs engage Willson in extension talks and announce a deal sometime around the Aug. 2 trade deadline instead of heralding the two promising young prospects they get by trading the man who started five World Series games for them as a rookie.

You can’t buy that kind of goodwill even if you spend more on an outside free agent over the winter.

Not even the MOPE network could manufacture a feel-good story that good; there’s not enough Marquee Overly Positive Embellishment on the planet to come close.

 

If anything, Contreras showed again Wednesday night how well he’s handling the most uncertain, potentially fraught moment in his career — yet another indicator of his value.

He delivered two doubles and his 13th home run in a victory over the Reds — two games after delivering a tying two-run single and later a go-ahead single in a 10-inning win over the Cardinals.

After Wednesday’s game, in which he got his 600th career hit he said on the broadcast, “Hopefully, I can keep them coming and hopefully get to 2,000 with the Cubs.”

Wait, what?

With the Cubs?

Asked Thursday if he’s shared that goal with Jed Hoyer or Tom Ricketts, Contreras said: “I think that message was clear right there.”

The message from the front office has been fairly clear so far, too — enough that Contreras’ expectation all season has been that as trade is imminent, with free agency right behind it in the offseason.

“I know that those types of things are right there,” he said, “but I’m not letting them bother me. I’m trying to be the same person every single day for my teammates and do the best job that I can to help this team to win.”

So trade him for what you can get at the deadline?

That’s ownership’s and the front office’s playbook. We saw it last year in the purge of All-Star core players at last year’s deadline. Game 7 starter Kyle Hendricks might even find his name in serious trade talks this time around.

And then there’s the best-hitting catcher in the game, an athletic defender and passionate competitor who wants to stay — and whose offensive value spiked this year with the addition of the universal DH and the ability to keep him in the lineup without wearing him down with as much burden behind the plate.

For his part, Contreras — who avoided an arbitration hearing with the club a few weeks ago only by the margin of an 11th-hour settlement — said he’s keeping his mind clear of trade thoughts and contract distractions.

“I think it’s the same,” he said of maintaining focus as we creep inside the final weeks before the deadline. “I’m not thinking about the trade deadline. I’m not thinking about any of that.”

What the Cubs should be thinking of is a fair-market offer to keep Contreras part of the continuity, and offensive production, into the team’s next competitive window.

They claim to have the money to spend over the winter. They probably need to do something to show the fans something — anything — that suggests a plan, if not a timeline for the rebuild.

Is anyone so sure there are better ways to spend on a long-term player, assuming they’re in the market for that, than on Contreras?

It’s the least they can do, if not for Contreras and themselves, then for the growing legions of angry, loyal customers.

 

Stat/quote of the week

Stat: 97.3 mph. That was the velocity on Chris Morel’s throw from center field in Wednesday’s fourth inning to nab Tommy Pham at the plate trying to score on a would-be sacrifice fly — higher than any pitch thrown by a Cub that night.

Quote: “That was sick,” starting pitcher/beneficiary Justin Steele said. “I can’t even do that on the mound.”

Take the poll

Nobody understands the business of baseball in the Cubs’ clubhouse better than Cubs union rep Ian Happ, who beat the Cubs in arbitration last year, is in the midst of what’s shaping up as a career year as the season nears All-Star selection time — and yet has no idea what the Cubs’ plans are for him next.

“Ian Happ deserves to be there for sure,” Contreras said when asked of teammates who might join him as an All-Star. “I 100 percent know he deserves to be there.”

What would that do to his market value for a contract? His trade value?

With a year left of club control, the Cubs can wait out the season to decide whether to offer Happ an extension or trade him at what might be his highest value now — or put him on the Contreras plan heading into next year’s trade deadline.

So take the poll:

What’s in a name?

From the ICYMI department, apparently we’ve seen the last of Clint Frazier with the Cubs — even though he’s still in the organization after being DFA’d a couple weeks ago.

Turns out the outfielder now wants to be called Jackson. So whenever he returns to the big-league club, they’ll be calling him Clint Jackson, or Jackson Frazier.

Press box wag: “As long as they’re not still calling him out on strikes.”

Douche of the week

The dude in full Cardinals regalia who proposed to his girlfriend on the Busch Stadium big screen during last weekend’s series against the Cubs is the big winner of this week’s award, barely edging out the Cardinals game-day geniuses who encourage such crap.

The PBW suggests any team that thinks this is cool, sweet or otherwise not the douche-iest between-innings tripe at a ballpark require its participants to sign an agreement to return, at club expense, when the inevitable time comes so that she can serve divorce papers on the big screen. PBW’s ex-wife was first with this idea.

(Also receiving votes: Marquee Sports Network, the New York Knicks, for adopting the Cubs’ blueprint of fan messaging/tanking, Cards game-day geniuses.)

Previous winners: Josh Donaldson (May 23), Marquee Sports Network (May 30), ESPN Mic’d-up Player Dept. (June 6), Orioles Rain Delay Dept. (June 13), Late-night host Stephen Colbert (June 25).

Trade me or … not

It’s not exactly Kevin Durant demanding a trade from the Nets, but Cubs outfielder Rafael Ortega knows he could be looking at greener pastures himself this summer.

 

“I’ve seen it from afar. I’ve see what happened,” the hot-hitting lefty veteran said when asked about his place in the trade-deadline picture (through team interpreter Will Nadal).

“I’ve said it before: I don’t just play for my team. I also play for the other 30 teams that are here looking and might have scouts, people observing.”

Ortega, a weapon as a platoon hitter against right-handed pitching, is hitting .293 in his last 41 games, dating to May 10, with an .814 OPS.

Of course, Ortega, 31, also isn’t arbitration eligible until after next season, making him a player whose value is likely greater as an inexpensive bridge piece for the Cubs than a trade chip that might net a low-minors crapshoot guy.

But he can dream.

“If another team would be interested in me, it would be an honor for me,” said Ortega, who has played for five big-league teams, with by far his most games with the Cubs these past two years.

“It would be something I would be excited about.”

Maybe KD’s agent can help.

GDubGrub

Inspired by a night out in St. Louis (take that for what it’s worth), check out “Salt + Smoke” barbecue on Clark — barely a Morel throw from Busch Stadium — if you find yourself stuck in The Lou and hungry.

An oasis in the otherwise loud and tacky Ballpark Village across from the stadium, the Salt + Smoke has a menu of mouth-watering favorites at reasonable prices.

But bring your appetite because when the menu says small caesar salad with smoked chicken added, nobody in the kitchen’s listening. It was huge, a gut-satisfying meal, for $10.99.

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