The big-market team with the most aggressive owner in baseball and the best record in the National League just lost its former All-Star catcher to a six-week hand injury.
If Willson Contreras thought the Cubs’ offseason signing of Yan Gomes was worthy of Twitter trolling in November, he might break his emoji maker over all the possible trade speculation about what Steve Cohen’s Mets might do for a catcher with James McCann sidelined.
And if Friday’s injury news wasn’t enough to make Cohen and the Mets feel the need to operate with any urgency, that might change after their first series loss of the season over the weekend, along with a second look at McCann’s meager numbers so far this season — and a first-hand look at the mediocre depth behind him.
Contreras is the most eligible, potentially best catch at his position on this summer’s trade market — especially now that he’s off to the kind of start at the plate that has him flirting with a third All-Star selection six weeks into the season.
Which makes the pending free agent everything the Mets need — now and even after McCann returns.
But Contreras is everything the Cubs need, too — now and even after this not-a-rebuild/soft-tank process turns into a serious baseball effort again on the North Side.
And that should be the larger point — should have been enough of a point to have secured a significant, multi-year extension from the club by now for its All-Star, championship-core catcher with the competitor’s edge, who couldn’t even get a one-year deal done with the Cubs to avoid an arbitration hearing next month.
“I’m trying to lift this team up; I’m trying to do my best to pass my energy to everybody, not just me,” he said during a tough finish to the last homestand — just ahead of a 7-for-19 (1.065 OPS) road trip that included a torrid series in San Diego and helped the Cubs go 4-2 in the six games.
“I’m trying to support my team, to have everybody’s back.”
Whether the Mets will aggressively pursue him this early in the season — stranger things have happened — Contreras is all but certain to be one of the premier bats available later in the summer, especially with the designated hitter now employed by the NL.
After the June 9 hearing, he’ll be making either $10.25 million or $9 million this year, of which the pro-rated share is a team-friendly proposition, either way, for any team with a need and its eye on October.
Contreras even got some potentially good news on that front over the past week when teams won two of the first three cases decided this year (Braves beating Austin Riley; the Cardinals beating Tyler O’Neill; and Andrew Benintendi beating the Royals).
Each case is considered independent from the rest, but an early edge for teams or players often evens out in later decisions (arbitrators can be fired by either MLB or the union).
Cubs president Jed Hoyer said when he blew up the roster last summer that he doesn’t know the definition of a rebuild. Fine.
Call it whatever you want.
But somebody in the bean-counter department might want to take a harder look at Contreras’ value. To this team.
And pay him now.
Or pay for the decision later.
Get what you pay for?
The stat of the week comes from seatgeek.com, where tickets to Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s Cubs-Pirates games could be had for as little as $4 as of early Monday morning.
Rather see the Cubs and Diamondbacks on Thursday? That game had tickets for as low as $6. Even Sunday afternoon’s game had some $11 tickets.
Was it heaven? No, Iowa
Hot take of the week: The Cubs’ don’t win either series during that just-concluded 4-2 road trip if Frank Schwindel actually had wound up in Iowa, as planned when he was optioned to the minors May 8.
Schwindel was hitting .209 with a .558 OPS when he was sent out before the final game of the last homestand. But once the Cubs got to San Diego and realized David Robertson would join Marcus Stroman on the COVID-19 IL, Schwindel was put in the next economy middle seat from Chicago to San Diego and back in the lineup that night.
He didn’t have much more than three strikeouts to show for his unexpected call to duty Monday — but by Sunday’s ninth inning he was delivering his second huge hit of the trip, this time a ninth-inning game-winner.
He also had a go-ahead two-run double in Wednesday’s series clincher in San Diego and finished the trip on a 5-for-15 streak — all of which started after coming off the bench Tuesday night in the ninth and coming up one dead ball and a foot short of hitting a potential game-winning grand slam.
“It’s just been a crazy week,” Schwindel said on the broadcast after Sunday’s game.
Press box wag
Frank the Tank probably won’t make the difference between a losing season and winning the division for the Cubs this year, but it’s always good to see good dudes have success.
Press box wag: “Maybe the team that doesn’t know the definition of rebuild can find a new one for Tanking.”
Take the poll
As strange Cubs injuries go, Nico Hoerner’s ankle injury doesn’t exactly rise to the levels of Felix Pie’s 2008 twisted testicle on the cringe scale or Sammy Sosa’s 2004 back-injuring sneeze on the what-the-hell scale.
But winding up on the injured list after running into the umpire while lining up for a relay throw?
That’s got to be right up there with Kerry Wood’s 2007 slip in the hot tub that bruised his chest and delayed his start to spring training, or one-time Cub Thomas Neal dislocating his shoulder on a throw to second from left field in 2013.
Or maybe Brandon Morrow throwing out his back while taking off his pants in 2018? Or Jose Quintana cutting his thumb on a broken glass while washing dishes a few days before summer camp opened in 2020?
Give Hoerner credit for originality, along with an ice pack. And then take the poll:
Could be worse (right, Reds fans?)
The Cubs aren’t going to get through the next three weeks without five more games against the Brewers, five against the Cardinals and two against the White Sox.
But until that gauntlet of 12 straight, they get 11 against the Pirates, Diamondbacks and the worst-in-baseball Reds, who are so bad they got a no-hitter from rookie Hunter Greene (and a bullpen pal) and still lost Sunday’s game to the Pirates 1-0.
It was only the sixth time since 1901 a team got no-hit and won, only the second time in the last 30 years (also Dodgers beating Angels 1-0 in 2008).
One of the best spots for a pregame bite within a couple blocks of Wrigley is the family-owned El Burrito Mexicano, next to the L stop on Addison — a favorite of longtime National League visiting baseball writers for decades.
Good prices. Better food.
Can’t go wrong with the chicken burrito.
Great story in the New York Times by Scott Miller on Padres third baseman Manny Machado and his growing talent for playing teammates and coaches at chess in the clubhouse, two boards at a time.
So that's how the Cubs won a series last week for the first time since the opening weekend?
The Padres were playing chess while the Cubs were playing ... baseball?