Nobody really expected Willson Contreras to still be playing with the Cubs in October, either because they assumed he’d be traded or because they simply forgot how the lockout pushed the season back. It’s been a strange year for catcher and team alike, with the Cubs looking like one of the worst teams in baseball for the first half before suddenly morphing into scrappy spoilers down the stretch.
Contreras’s stats haven’t followed the same trend line, though it’s his emotional journey we’re more concerned with for the time being. The heavy trade rumors that dogged him all season ended up being for naught as the Cubs were unable to find a suitor, a development that pleased the catcher a great deal. But on the heels of that relief came the knowledge that he was sure to be saddled with a qualifying offer that would hurt his free agency.
While it’s possible that Contreras will accept the QO or that he and the Cubs can work something out on a multi-year deal, the team reportedly wants to move in a different direction. Contreras has made it clear that he wants his next team to want him, so some sort of cheap trick is unlikely to get the job done. The breadcrumbs seem to be leading to an amicable separation at the end of the season, something Contreras noted prior to Sunday’s game.
Willson Contreras receives a standing ovation at Wrigley. pic.twitter.com/ayF0xKW42f
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) October 2, 2022
“I know this is the last game of the season, especially the last home game of my journey with the Cubs,” he told reporters. “Just going to go out there with my head up high and keep doing the best for this team into the last day.”
Contreras received a standing ovation each time he stepped to the plate, including what may have been his final plate appearance at Wrigley as a Cub. Following a leadoff walk in the bottom of the 8th inning, Contreras was lifted for pinch runner Alfonso Rivas and trotted off the field to yet another round of applause. The #HugWatch that followed felt way too much like a goodbye, though we all thought the same thing back in late July.
After the Cubs came out to salute the fans, Willson Contreras remained on the field for several minutes to soak it in and wave to the crowd. pic.twitter.com/JVvpobeqZL
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 2, 2022
“Since the moment that I got here, I knew this could have been my home for my entire career,” Contreras said after the game, echoing a sentiment he’d shared earlier in the season. “But I got to the moment in my career that is like a dream come true, I’ve earned my spot in free agency, and I’m looking forward to it.”
If this truly was the end, it’s been one helluva ride. Contreras homered in his first-ever plate MLB plate appearance, won a World Series, and started three All-Star Games in a Cubs uniform. He’s been the fiery heart of the team for years now and he’s grown into a leader who sets an example as an elder statesman. I can understand why a parting of the ways is likely, just as I could with the players who were traded last season, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
It’ll certainly help if Jed Hoyer is given a huge budget increase to go make the changes required to turn the Cubs back into a winner right away. Alas, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about that over the next few months. What won’t help is if Contreras ends up going to an NL Central rival that will not be named here and ends up tormenting the Cubs for the next few years.
However it ends up working out, I wish Contreras nothing but the best wherever he ends up. Unless that place is St. Louis, in which case I cannot claim to be so bullish in my wishes for his performance.