Cubs' Morel: ‘A team could build around' Contreras


BALTIMORE — The Cubs seem to have no intention of engaging Willson Contreras in extension talks before trading him this summer.

They couldn’t even agree on a one-year deal for his final season as a Cub without taking him to an arbitration hearing, which happens this week.

But it doesn’t take a math degree to calculate the value of his production compared to the rest of the league, especially among big-league catchers.

And it doesn’t take even a month in the clubhouse to see what Contreras brings to a group that figures to have a steady flow of youth coming through the doors the next couple of years during Jed Hoyer’s not-a-rebuild process.

“From my perspective, he’s someone that a team could build around, even during a rebuild,” said rookie Chris Morel, who credits Contreras’ mentorship as a significant factor in becoming comfortable enough his first three weeks in the majors to start his career on a 21-game tear.

“He’s someone who’s always there to help everyone out,” Morel said through team translator Will Nadal. “He’s there to provide advice. I can say that he’s been there for me. He’s helped me out when I’ve needed, and he’s just a great personality and a great teammate to have around.

“I definitely think he could be a key part of any organization.”

Contreras, who’s eligible for free agency after this season, knows he’s all but assured of being traded — the bigger question being whether it might happen before the July 19 All-Star Game or after.

Morel, too, knows his longtime mentor and friend — “a brother to me” — will be gone before he gets the chance to play another nine weeks with Contreras.

“Something that I’ve learned here is that this is a business,” Morel said. “And I understand that things happen, players get traded. But the most important thing is that it doesn’t matter what organization we’re with, what city we’re at, we’re always going to be brothers. We’re always going to be together. We’ll always communicate; we’ll always talk.”

Together on Tuesday night, even in defeat, they accounted for all of the Cubs’ scoring in a 9-3 loss to the Orioles — Morel leading off the game with a first-pitch homer and later adding a run-scoring triple; Contreras hitting his 10th homer of the season in between.

It doesn’t take much to imagine what they might look like together longer term if the Cubs were to value that more than they value the return on a Contreras trade or the savings by not giving him the multiyear contract.

Their tandem performance in the 1-2 spots in the order were an example of that much.

On the other hand, the blowout loss to a pedestrian Orioles team on a night young pitcher Keegan Thompson looked the part for the first time might have been a example of the kind of continued growing pains the Cubs will endure before a guy like Contreras would see another NLCS.

Not that trading Contreras would seem to help that process.

“I try to do my best for everyone here, and be there for them,” he said. “Like when I’m DH’ing, I try to come to guys and talk about just life, what their thoughts are, how they’re feeling about this season and where they feel like they need to be. Those are the types of conversations that Ive had this year more often than I’ve had before.”

None more than with Morel, who Contreras took under his wing in 2016, when the elder was on the brink of a debut and the younger was newly signed to the organization at 16 and recovering from a bad injury.

“It’s like my [youngest] brother now,” said Contreras, whose 24-year-old brother William catches for the Braves. “We’ve already built a relationship; we don’t need to build one because we already had one. I’ve tried to guide this guy the best way I can. He’s always asking about things around here, and I try to do my best for him.”

For now. And next week. Maybe even for much of next month.

Morel will still have Contreras after that, even if it’s not in the clubhouse, even if the rest of the Cubs won’t. Whether they know what kind of impact that has or not.

“He’s been there for me every step that I’ve taken — Double-A, now in the big leagues, good and bad times, we’ve always been there,” Morel said. “I wish him the best, with anything that’s going to happen. I wish to God that everything good happens to him, wherever it may be.”

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