No tanks: Contreras wants to win if Cubs want him to stay originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
ST. LOUIS — Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, Anthony Rizzo.
When it comes to Chicago Cubs core players and possible contract extensions, that trio seems to be all anybody is talking about.
“That’s fine,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “I don’t feel bad because they don’t talk about me.”
Maybe they should.
Contreras is only one year behind that impending free-agent class of high-profile teammates — and he might be as important a part of the All-Star core as any of them.
“I’m just focused on playing good baseball,” he said. “I’m not worried about where I’m going to end up. I’m not worried about where I’m going to go.”
Which might make it time for the Cubs to start to worry.
Because Contreras also wants to win.
And during a conversation over the weekend with NBC Sports Chicago, the catcher who has started the last two All-Star Games for the National League said that will make a difference in whether he wants to stay if the Cubs approach him, like they did the others, about an extension.
“I love to win,” he said. “I would love to get to the playoffs a few more times and get to the World Series at least two or three more times in my career. So that’s a deep evaluation that I’d have to do, that [we’d] have to talk about. That’s going to be a long conversation: ‘Who are we going to have on our team, who are we going to keep, who are we trading for, who are we signing?’
“I’m looking forward to those kind of conversations for sure.”
That’s where the three All-Star teammates who can become free agents after this season might play a role in whether Contreras would even consider signing long-term.
The Cubs already have failed in efforts to extend those three despite repeated assertions by all three that they want to stay. That included a lowball offer to Rizzo this spring that might have had as much to do with financially skittish ownership anticipating contentious labor negotiations this year as any of the front office's regression models.
What if all three end up traded or departing next winter in free agency — signaling another multi-year rebuild?
“It’s really hard to imagine a team without those three guys,” said Contreras. “One of them probably won’t be here or two. …But thinking of a team without Javy, without Rizzo, without Bryant, it’s really hard. Those are three special keys that we have on this team.”
A case can be made that Contreras is a bigger key than any of them for what he does for the pitching staff, as a middle-of-the-order hitter and as a Gold Glove finalist at a talent-scarce position — not to mention playing a major postseason role for the 2016 champions a few months after his major-league debut.
The Cubs internally have discussed Contreras as a potential MVP in recent seasons.
He makes $6.65 million this year with one more winter of arbitration eligibility.
By comparison, another two-time All-Star, J.T. Realmuto, signed a five-year, $115.5 million deal with the Phillies as the top free agent catcher this past winter.
If the Cubs plan to keep their elite catcher as a building block for the next championship window, it might take more than a fair-market offer; it might take getting serious about sending a message they intend to open that window sooner rather than later.
And that might take getting serious about keeping at least one or two of this year’s pending free agents — all of whom are showing their competitive value during the Cubs’ unexpected surge over the past month, including Bryant looking like an early MVP candidate and Báez leading an historically loaded free-agent shortstop class in OPS after his game-winning home run Sunday in St. Louis.
“We should keep this core together,” said Contreras, who loves Chicago and said his “door’s open” to extension talks.
“If it were my wish, this [core] would stay the same, especially with the young talent coming up and some of the pitchers coming up,” he said. “I think they have a lot of talent.
“If we can keep the same core for a few more years, it’s going to be a very special team again.”