Willson Contreras opens up as 2022 Cubs season comes to a close
Willson Contreras isn’t particularly worried about “goodbyes.”
For starters, he already had plenty of emotional farewell moments with Cubs fans and his teammates at Wrigley Field in the final homestand before the trade deadline.
And then, of course, he wasn’t traded.
So now, with just over a week left in the 2022 regular season, Contreras is more focused on being present.
The Cubs activated the 3-time All-Star catcher off the IL before Tuesday’s game after he spent a month on the shelf with a left ankle sprain (an injury he originally suffered at the Field of Dreams Game on Aug. 11).
Contreras started Tuesday’s game at DH, hitting 3rd. The Cubs have a 6-game homestand against the Phillies and Reds at Wrigley Field before a 3-game series in Cincinnati to close out the year. Ever since he hit the IL, he made it a goal that he would return for the final homestand.
“It was really important for me to come back and play this last series at home,” Contreras said. “We all know I’ve been here for 14 years and we don’t know if it’s a real goodbye or just for a moment — a few months.
“I’m just looking forward to going out there and have fun with my teammates. That’s all I can do at this point. Just have fun, do the best I can and let things happen.”
Contreras is set to be a free agent at the end of the year. It’s very possible that this week marks his final games in a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Field.
But he won’t make any assumptions, not after this year’s trade deadline.
The Cubs will likely extend a qualifying offer to Contreras after the regular season ends. It is a 1-year contract worth between $18-19 million and if Contreras declines, the Cubs get a compensatory pick after the 2nd round.
Contreras understands it’s all part of the business and didn’t want to say whether he would accept the qualifying offer or not.
“I’m not gonna get offended,” he said. “I already talked to my agent about it and we’re gonna think about it.
“At this point, I’m not gonna give you an answer (about whether or not he’d accept the QO). I’m gonna wait and see what’s next. We have to consider it.”
Contreras acknowledged he has been thinking a lot about his impending free agency and has a good grasp for what he feels like he wants. He also understands he doesn’t control the market so there is a big wait-and-see element.
“For me, [what’s most important is] feeling that I’m wanted,” Contreras 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.”
Contreras debuted in the 2016 season and helped the Cubs win the World Series as a rookie. He also developed into the personal catcher for Jon Lester from 2017-20 after David Ross retired and has started 3 All-Star games for the National League.
This year, he was having one of his best offensive seasons before going on the IL. He came into Tuesday’s game with a 129 OPS+ (which is 29% above league average), the highest mark of his career.
Contreras benefitted from regular time at DH earlier this season, smacking 22 doubles and 21 homers and putting up a .351 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage.
“I thought he’s had a great year and I don’t know if he could’ve done much more,” Ross said. “I feel like he came into Spring Training on a mission and didn’t let the outside things bother him too much.
“He went through a little bit of a spell right before the trade deadline that I’m sure affected him pretty crazily. None of that transpired and he’s done nothing but played hard when he’s been in there.”
Contreras saw what the Cubs did in 2016 and believes the path back to October (and November) glory for this franchise is finding the right blend of veteran leadership and young talent.
“We’re still gonna have a lot of work to do,” Contreras said. “I’m being honest. I know we have a lot on the pitching staff, a lot with the farm system but still this team is gonna need some balance.”
The 30-year-old believes he can help provide that balance.
“I’ve been here for 6 years,” Contreras said. “I know what a winning team is. I know what a playoff team is. I know what we can do as a team to get on track to win.
“Of course there is a lot of talent, there is 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, Velazquez 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.”