Cubs, Willson Contreras Avoid Arbitration with $9.625M Settlement

The Cubs and Willson Contreras were scheduled for an arbitration hearing Thursday after coming up $1.25 million apart on their filings, but the two sides agreed to settle at the midpoint. That means Contreras will earn $9.625 million this season, a tremendous bargain considering his elite offensive output. If you’re thinking it’s really weird to be having arbitration talks more than a week into June, remember that an unnecessary lockout hosed up the offseason.

As for what this means regarding the catcher’s future in Chicago, well, there are at least two different ways to view it. The first, and by far the most optimistic, is that this signals a solid relationship between the two sides that keeps the door open for negotiations on a long-term extension. Establishing his salary for this year enables both Team Contreras and the Cubs to determine fair value for new money in 2023 and beyond.

The other view is that setting his salary means the Cubs and potential trade partners have additional clarity when it comes to what Contreras is worth in a deal prior to the August 2 deadline. Of course, that $625,000 swing one way or the other really shouldn’t make a difference, particularly when prorated over less than half of the season.

Whichever way you slice it, this is little more than the final hurdle in a process that will end one of two ways. If the Cubs choose to trade Contreras, which many have felt for some time now is inevitable, it’s really hard to imagine them truly targeting 2023 as the start of their attempts to truly be competitive. Yan Gomes and P.J. Higgins are nice and Miguel Amaya has been a top prospect for years now, but none of them offer the kind of impact Contreras has provided.

There’s also the matter of payroll, which is hardly impacted by his sub-$10 million salary. It’s not as though paring that money from the bottom line suddenly provides the wherewithal to pursue Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, or Carlos Correa. And what about losing a clubhouse leader on a team in transition that is going to depend heavily on young players coming up through the ranks?

While I can understand the business case for trading Contreras when his value to other teams is so high, it looks much better in a vacuum. Introduce contextual oxygen to the situation and everything looks quite a bit different. Not that my opinion matters much here. The Cubs have less than two months to figure out what they want to do at this point.

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