What comes next for Willson Contreras and the Cubs?
Shortly after the World Series ends, the Cubs’ first order of offseason business will officially begin: Extending a qualifying offer to Willson Contreras.
That’s not a surprise by any means but Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer confirmed the news at his end-of-season press conference Monday morning.
“We had a great conversation with Willson the other day,” Hoyer said. “We’ve always had a really good relationship. I admire how he competes. I admire the passion. We’ll definitely make them a qualifying offer. We’ll be in touch with his representatives.”
The 3-time All-Star starting catcher is set to become a free agent this winter but the Cubs can still retain Contreras for 2023 if he accepts the qualifying offer (worth roughly $19 million). He will have 10 days to decide if he wants to take the 1-year deal or shop around for a longer term contract.
Contreras will be 31 in May and is coming off one of the best seasons of his career (3.9 WAR, .815 OPS, 22 homers).
Before playing the last series of the season at Wrigley Field last month, Contreras spoke with the media and shared his priorities for finding his long-term baseball home.
“For me, it’s more the feeling that I’m wanted,” he said. “I’m going to be somewhere that I’m wanted and I feel like they’re gonna appreciate what I do on the field and off the field. A place that appreciates what I bring to the clubhouse and what I can do.”
Part of what Contreras feels like he brings to a team is leadership and an understanding of how to win. He felt like he stepped up in those roles throughout 2022, especially for younger players like Christopher Morel and Nelson Velázquez.
Contreras got some serious on-the-job training for how to win in the big leagues when he made his debut in the middle of the 2016 season and ended up starting Game 7 of the World Series as a rookie.
“I know what a winning team is. I know what a playoff team is,” Contreras said. “I know what we can do as a team to get on track to win. Of course there is a lot of talent — a lot of younger talent that needs support, needs somebody to talk to.
“I think that’s been my job here during the whole year. Since Morel came up, since Velázquez came up and all the guys that came up, I’m trying to do my best for them and try to make them feel comfortable. For me, that’s what creates good chemistry on a team — making everybody feel comfortable. But at the same time, we have to keep them accountable.”
Contreras has grown up in the Cubs organization, spending nearly half his life (14 years) with the club. Hoyer has been around for most of that time and remembers the young catcher playing with short-season Class-A Boise in 2012.
“I’ll take the comments he makes to me directly and not those [he made publicly],” Hoyer said. “I’ve always enjoyed our relationship. I’ve really enjoyed watching him grow.”
If Contreras does not return to the Cubs for next season, the team feels confident in its current catching depth with veteran Yan Gomes and P.J. Higgins. The Cubs signed Gomes to a 2-year deal prior to the 2022 season and they also hold a club option for 2024 with the 35-year-old catcher.
“He was a terrific addition to our pitching staff is how I look at it,” Hoyer said. “He really worked with those guys every day. Every one of the pitchers feels like he’s completely invested in what they’re trying to do. And that was really impressive from a makeup and character standpoint.”