Willson Contreras represents the Cubs’ last hope to retain a key member of their 2016 World Series team, but the two sides are heading to arbitration over a $1.25 million gap and the catcher said Monday that they’re “not really” close to an extension. He also admitted that it would be difficult to carry those talks into the regular season, particularly with the lockout and compressed spring training timeline pushing everything back a few weeks.
That’s nothing new because most players prefer to avoid the distraction of negotiating during the season, and Contreras explained that he’s trying to maintain tunnel vision.
“I’m not focused on getting an extension,” told members of the media at Sloan Park. “I’m not focused on the arbitration case. I’m focused on winning, I’m focused on competing on the field with my teammates. I’m focused on being the best that I can be for them.”
That focus has allowed him to put things in perspective when it comes to where he and the team stand at the moment and how that could change in the future. He’s been very transparent about that previously, calling free agency a possible “dream come true” in terms of what it would mean as a validation of his hard work, but it’s mainly about being able to put things in the proper context.
“Now, I’m really good with it,” Contreras said of the ubiquitous reports about his future. “When you hear trade rumors, it’s because you’re doing something good on the field that another team might want.
“And I understand that the Chicago Cubs are in a rebuild right now. And if they can get good packages, they’re going to do whatever they do best for the team. Anyways, whatever happens, happens.”
As easy as it would be to view this as Contreras essentially admitting that his time with the Cubs is short, which could still be the case, I don’t know that it’s worthwhile to read much into it. All he’s really saying is that he is very aware of the situation and that, rather than allowing it to dictate his mental state, he’s being very pragmatic about it.
The same could be said for a recent report from Mark Gonzales that Contreras told catching prospect Miguel Amaya to “rehab and prepare as much as possible in case Contreras is traded or leaves for free agency.” Rather than see that as Contreras anointing his successor, it’s really just a veteran catcher taking a younger player under his wing and letting him know to keep pushing.
After all, Amaya is out for the season following elbow reconstruction in November and wouldn’t be stepping into any vacancies this year no matter what happens. Not to mention Amaya has hardly played in two years and is hardly a lock to make the club in 2023 after a third lost year. As I see it, this is a case of Contreras being honest about the possibilities after having watched several other teammates shipped out rather than be extended.
If he was truly upset with the team and wanted no part of what’s happening right now, he could very easily make that displeasure known in any number of ways. Not that it provides much solace to Cubs fans who believe he’s as good as gone, but it does at least feel like his public neutrality at least keeps the door open.
“Willson’s in a good head space,” David Ross said. “I don’t know that even I’ve seen him in such a good place since I’ve been here. He seems eager to lead and to set an example. He understands he’s gonna make a lot of money either way, I think, and the details get worked out. His job is just to go play, he can’t control any of those extra factors.
The other factor here is that, one way or the other, Contreras is going to keep busting his ass. Whether the money comes from the Cubs or somewhere else, he’s going to get a lot more of it by showing up and showing out. As for whether he wants to keep showing up when he believes his team is rebuilding, well, that’s another story.
But maybe his take on what the front office has done following the lockout is a good sign.
“They had no time to negotiate,” Contreras said. “They are adding players, they still are. I’m really glad with the job they’re doing.”