It’s hard to believe that it’s been over six years since Wilson Contreras entered the hearts and minds of Cubs fans when he blasted a home run to deep into the late-night June sky. It wasn’t long before Contreras etched his name into baseball lore, as he was part of that legendary 2016 Chicago Cubs. A team that broke the longest championship drought in North American sports history. Contreras has only grown from that June night in 2016, becoming one of the best two-way catchers in the game. In his seven seasons, he’s caught nearly three out of every 10 would be base stealers (29%) and has only allowed 33 passed balls in over 4,000 innings behind the dish.
What makes a catcher truly a great one is the ability to be a great hitter while playing great defense behind the plate consistently and that is what Contreras has done in the Windy City. Since he came into the league, Contreras is tied for fifth in the league in home runs by catcher with 107 and second in batting average by catcher at .261. Contreras has continued to produce in the 2022 season even with the Cubs sitting 19 games under .500 (34-53). The Venezuelan native is tied for first in home runs by catchers with 13 and is second in batting average among catchers at .274.
While he is playing some of his best baseball for the Cubs right now, Contreras may not be calling Wrigley Field home for much longer.
The Cubs and Contreras avoided arbitration in June, with the two sides agreeing on a one-year, $9.625 million contract for this season, the 30 year-old catcher is in the last year of his contract with the club. As we approach all-star break, taking into consideration where the Cubs are in the standings and the lack of a long term extension, Contreras has been subject to many trade rumors.
With the state of the Cubs, the debate has come up whether to trade Contreras for more prospects to continue to rebuild or to finally give him a long-term extension. At this point it’s up to the Cubs front office because Contreras has repeatedly said he wants to stay in Chicago beyond this season.
For me, the short answer is yes, Wilson Contreras should be a Chicago Cub for life.
Contreras’ role has shifted a lot since he came in 2016. When he first came in, he was not only just the third catcher on the depth chart behind Miguel Montero and David Ross, but was another young player expected to be part of the main core for years to come. Now, six years later, he is one of the more seasoned players on the roster and a leader helping a very young pitching staff. However, his leadership has gone beyond just focusing on the pitchers, he has really become a full club house leader for all the young players.
June 1 the Cubs were taking on division rival Brewers and the two sides were tied at 3-3 heading into the bottom of the 10th. After Nick Madrigal grounded out (shocker) to advance Jason Heyward to third with the extra innings rule (which I hate) Cubs rookie Christopher Morel stepped up to the plate with a chance for his first career walk-off. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Contreras, who was in the on-deck circle, looked over to Morel and gave some good advice.
Morel took a changeup low and then skyed a ball to left field to get a sacrifice fly walk-off as the Cubs won 4-3.
Even before this, when Morel hit his first career home run, who was one of the first people out of the dugout to celebrate with him? Contreras.
Leaders like Contreras don’t come around often and to let one walk away/trade away just because the front office thinks the return will be more assets is ludicrous. Who will help develop and lead those “assets,” when they finally make the big leagues? Teams need guys like Contreras even when the club isn’t good, because it can keep the locker room together and puts faith in the organization that they value clubhouse leaders.
However, beyond the field itself, Contreras is a leader and just a good person. Contreras has been involved with charitable organizations including the Illinois Special Olympics, where he is a global ambassador for not only the Special Olympics themselves, but also the Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby. This, in my view, is a visible marker of someone who not only wants to give back to the area, his team but is generally someone who is a good person and leader.
Comparing other Extensions
If you don’t think with how Contreras has played and the value he brings as a leader is enough to bring him back, I thought of a different way to convince you all. I looked back at the last couple of catchers who had been extended on long term deals.
In March of 2010, after winning AL MVP in 2009, the Minnesota Twins gave Mauer an eight year 184-million-dollar deal. Mauer more than earned that deal as not only did he make three more All-Star appearances in that eight-year span, he finished out that entire deal when he retired at the end of the 2018 season. Over those eight years, Mauer hit .294/.376/.412, 71 home runs and 526 RBIs. Mauer also won two silver slugger awards in 2010 and 2013. While he was an amazing hitter, Mauer was also a fantastic defender at two positions as in those eight years he started 292 games at catcher and at first base for 584 games. Mauer was honored for his defensive efforts with a Gold Glove award in 2010. While the Twins were largely unsuccessful, with only two playoff appearances during the length of the contract, that had more to do with the rest of the roster than how Mauer played. While the ages are different from these two (26 to 30) Mauer still played solid baseball well into his mid 30’s and with the DH role now in the NL, Contreras may have a longer shelf life.
This may be the closest comparison to the Cubs situation right now. Molina was heading into his age 29 season in 2012, coming off three straight All-Star game appearances, the Cardinals paid Molina 75 million dollars over five years on Feb. 29, 2012. In that time Molina had won 14 different awards, including four gold gloves, two Wilson Defensive Player of the Year awards, three National League Platinum Glove awards. Molina has always been a defensive monster, but in the span of his extension (2012-2017) he was also a topflight hitter with a line of .295/.342/.432 while smacking 71 home runs and 395 RBIs. With all of that combined, in 2012 and 2013 he finished top five in the MVP voting, coming in 4th and 3rd respectively. However to put the cherry on top in 2015, Molina won the Darryl Kile Award which goes to the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros player who best exemplifies Kile's traits of "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man." The winner is determined by each local chapter of the Baseball Writers. Molina is the type of player who not only gave you great play on both sides of the diamond but is a truly good person and leader. While he maybe not be in the same class, Contreras still checks all those boxes of a good player, leader, and person on and off the field.
Giving him what he is owed
I know that in all pro sports it’s never a good idea to pay someone for past performances and that you need to be forward thinking. However, with everything that I have presented earlier, I think this can be an exception. Contreras was a key contributor in the second half of the 2016 season in bringing a title back to the Cubs for the first time in 108 years. He even hit an RBI double in game 7 of the World Series. Ever since then he has been the number one catcher on the Cubs depth chart and just one of their best players with a lineup that included Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. When you look at his career earnings, he’s only made 21 million dollars, 16 of which has come in the last two seasons out his now seven-year career. There is no reason to not only pay Wilson Contreras, but to keep him with the Cubs for the rest of his career, outside of the Ricketts cheapness (despite trying to spend 4 billion to buy Chelsea Football and reportedly interested in investing in the Chicago Sky as of writing this article).