Willson Contreras has never been one to shy away from confrontation, be it on the field or with a pointed soundbite, so it comes as no surprise that he’s tossed little barbs at the Cubs when speaking to the media in Cardinals camp. Hell, you’d expect any player to want to ingratiate himself with his new teammates and fans, and that goes double for someone who came over from a rival. It goes triple for Contreras, whose ability to get under opponents’ skin is among his most valuable traits.
Once you factor in the way he left Chicago, essentially cast aside amid reports that the Cubs didn’t care for the way he marched to the beat of his own drummer preparation-wise. He once admitted to ceasing his in-season workouts due to the physical demands of catching, only to realize those workouts would have helped him maintain his stamina. Then there’s the issue of game-calling, which David Ross and other members of his staff didn’t necessarily appreciate.
“People don’t really know what happened there,” Contreras told Ken Rosenthal. “I had to adjust to the (inexperienced pitchers). I didn’t want them to do whatever I thought was right. I had to let them be themselves. I didn’t want to be a dictator, tell them what to do. A lot of times, I’d rather them figure out things by themselves…
“Obviously, a lot of times, I got off the plan because I saw what was going on in the game. If the pitcher doesn’t have what it takes to execute Plan A, I had to go to Plan B. I know we have technology, and it all helps. But a lot of times, the feelings are really important, too, in the game.”
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy defended Contreras against any claims of poor communication and preparation, though in doing so he also admitted that some of the finer points of the catching role may have taken “a little bit of a back seat.” It was obvious the Cubs were ready to move in a new direction by the time the season ended, hence the lack of any real attempt at a contract offer.
That may have stung Contreras the most because he maintains that he really wanted to stay in Chicago and was vocal with Ross about that desire. Alas, the manager and front office had already made up their minds otherwise. So now Contreras heads to the Cubs’ fiercest rivals with a big-ass chip on his shoulder and you can be damn sure he’s going to do everything in his power to make them regret letting him walk.
I’m picturing the scene from Major League in which Rick Vaughn goes off on manager Lou Brown when he believes he’s been cut. That’s going to be Contreras, except it’ll happen 14 times a season for the next five years.
“I want you to feel that way about me. I want you to hate me. That’s part of my game,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol said Contreras told him during a recruiting meeting.
The only thing I worry about is that the people who will end up hating Contreras are Cardinals fans, similar to the way Dexter Fowler almost immediately became persona non grata in St. Louis. That said, we’re talking about two very different characters and I could see the catcher reveling in the Cardinal Way, especially if he has early success against his old team.
I’m not going to tell any of you who used to love the dude, or maybe still do, that you have to start hating or just mildly disliking him at this point. What I’m saying, however, is that he’s going to do everything he can for the duration of his time as a Cardinal to piss you off and get you to root against him. That’s who he is and he eats it up.
In the end, it might be best to simply ignore him and cut off his food supply. Whatever the case, he’ll be a beloved figure a few years down the road when he retires and comes back to Cubs Convention to sign autographs.