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Cubs extend qualifying offer to Willson Contreras and what comes next for catching position

1 year agoAndy Martinez

LAS VEGAS — Thursday marked the final day of the GM Meetings at the Conrad at Resorts World — and it marked the final day to extend qualifying offers to eligible players.

For the Cubs, that meant Willson Contreras. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has said since the trade deadline that they would extend the qualifying offer to the catcher and they did Thursday, but Contreras is expected to decline it and become a free agent. He has until November 15 to make the decision. If he accepts it, he would be signed to a one-year deal valued at around $19.65 million

If Contreras signs with another team, the Cubs will receive draft pick compensation, which would come after the 2nd round. 

The Cubs haven’t entirely ruled out a reunion with their long-time catcher, but it’s unlikely he returns to Chicago’s North Side.

Hoyer and the Cubs have stressed the importance of the game calling and planning aspect of the catching position — something that Yan Gomes thrived in.

“It’s a two-way position, obviously [you] want guys that can hit, but it’s a run-prevention position and so much of it is game calling, preparation, feeling strongly that everything that pitchers do is a ‘we’ thing,” Hoyer said. “It’s about that teamwork and that collaboration.”

Gomes showed his value in that aspect when Contreras went down with an ankle injury in late August. In 25 games while Contreras was out, the Cubs starting pitching staff posted a 3.30 ERA, sixth best in baseball, and a 1.13 WHIP, 4th best in baseball.

“I think that the younger your staff, the more important it is to have guys back there that are just totally committed to helping those guys through those games,” Hoyer said.

While Gomes doesn’t have the offensive profile Contreras has, he more than makes up for it in his game calling and that’s something the Cubs really value. Teams have shown success with that approach — the Astros won the World Series with Martín Maldonado (.186 AVG, 69 OPS+) as their primary catcher. Maldonado was lauded for his game calling and ability to work with a pitching staff.

“[Gomes] knows where he wants [pitchers] to attack, knows where he doesn’t wanna get beat, what hitters he’s maybe scared of that could do real damage and ones that it feels like it’s really good matchup,” David Ross said in September. “That’s stood out to me the most. I think he does a really nice job that old school veteran guy that just really knows how to manage a lineup and not get beat in the areas that you shouldn’t to win.”

The Cubs could opt to add another veteran game caller through free agency to pair with Gomes and P.J. Higgins. Among the options, Omar Narváez, who spent the last three seasons in Milwaukee, has improved his defense in the last two seasons, hit the open market this week and provides a left-handed bat. Tucker Barnhart spent 2022 in Detroit, has won a pair of Gold Gloves in Cincinnati and also is a free agent. 

As the Cubs continue to rely on young arms to augment their pitching staff like they did in the second half of 2022, the importance of that presence behind the plate becomes paramount.

“You have games where guys are pitching really well and you’re cruising along,” Hoyer said. “But you’ll have young players that will hit their bumps in the road and having a steady force behind the plate that’s not only knowledgeable but totally in your corner, I think that’s exceptionally important.”

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