Contreras ‘dream' of free agency would be Cubs nightmare


MESA, Ariz. — The tweets reporting the Cubs’ signing of All-Star catcher Yan Gomes in the hours before the lockdown had barely begun to circulate when the Cubs’ incumbent All-Star catcher joined the tweetstorm.

Just four emojis: two planes taking off, followed by two planes landing. To big-league destinations apparently unknown.

“I was trying to just play around,” Willson Contreras said Sunday, smiling at the question, after his first day of spring training practice.

“I’m still here, bro.”

But keep the emoji machine running. Not even Contreras will speculate how long he’ll still be here — his status as a pending free agent making this year his turn for the Kris Bryant-Javy Báez-Anthony Rizzo roller-coaster ride that could result in any outcome ranging from contract extension to trade.

“Even though this is my last year, whatever’s going to happen in the middle of the year, or the end, I’m happy with it,” Contreras said, quickly adding: “I’m not saying this is my last year, but of the contract, yes. I’m not looking forward to leaving the organization. But I’m in the present.”

One of the last three players left from the 2016 championship, the two-time All-Star said he hasn’t heard anything from the Cubs about planning contract extension talks — much less actually having them.

Team president Jed Hoyer said Friday he’s got a roster to fill before looking at in-house business such as extensions. If those talks happen, they likely will engage in the next week or so — with the Cubs traditionally using spring training to negotiate extensions and given that Contreras said Sunday he might not be comfortable having those talks once the season starts.

If they don’t happen, that might be a bigger misfire by the team than their failures to extend last year’s three short-timers — who were traded en masse in a 20-hour deadline purge in July.

Contreras is a team-first, ultra-competitive tone-setter in the clubhouse and the rare offensively productive catcher who also was a Gold Glove finalist as recently as 2020.

He has said repeatedly he’s willing to help lead the next championship core, and the addition of the designated hitter to the National League starting this year will only help retain his value over the life of an extension, given his hitting ability.

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“I’m good with it,” said Contreras, who remains open “always” to extension talks over keeping him off next winter’s free agent market. “They know what’s best for the team.

“Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.”

Meanwhile, he hasn't talked to anyone yet about how the Gomes acquisition will potentially impact what has been a heavy workload behind the plate in recent years.

But he's well aware that he’s this year’s version one year later of Bryant, Báez and Rizzo.

“Those things were in my head before I got here,” Contreras said. “Obviously, it happened last year; it can happen this year.

“Whatever happens in the middle of the year is going to happen. Life goes on.”

And when it does, the guy who has spent the last three years in various levels of trade rumors will be ready with the next emoji by the sounds of it — having gone from expressing nerves the first time he was in rumors two years ago, to expressing peace of mind last year, to airplanes on runways this time around.

Just as former Cubs manager Joe Maddon had his five stages of being a pro ballplayer, Contreras has progressed through the first three stages of trade-rumor experience:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Acceptance
  3. Twitter Troll

If the final stage is free agency, Contreras sounds more than prepared.

“It would be like a dream coming true, especially coming from the bottom of the organization,” he said of starting over defensively in the minors when he was converted from third base to catcher, “and earning my spot as a Chicago Cubs catcher.

“It would be fun to have that experience.”

Almost sounds like a tweet.

"Whatever happens from now on, I’m going to do my best for them,” he said.

And have fun at Wrigley, he said, whether it’s his last year there in the home uniform.

And most important, this year and beyond:

“I wish I could get at least one more ring in my career,” said Contreras, who was in Atlanta last fall for his brother William’s championship with the Braves. “I’m a winner — I consider myself a winner. Like I said, I’ll do my best for the Cubs. I’ll do my best for any team.”

Any team.

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