Press Box Wag

Nightmare on Clark Street: Could Contreras go to Cardinals?


Less than an hour before the trade deadline earlier this month, when the Cubs were in St. Louis, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was summoned from the field and headed back into the tunnel toward the clubhouse.

Trades were afoot for the active and buying Cardinals, and for a moment the fleeting thought on the Cubs side of the field involved the whereabouts of Willson Contreras.

Turns out other Cardinal trades were afoot, and — in a non-move that surprised almost everyone in baseball — the Cubs’ three-time All-Star catcher was not traded to anyone.

Next up, the sequel? Be careful what you asked for?

RELATED: Cubs' handling of Contreras at trade deadline shameful

Contreras, who’s still a Cub because the Cubs didn’t accept the market adjustment when Juan Soto became available, is expected to receive (and decline) a qualifying offer from the Cubs after the season, then become one of the top free agent position players of the winter.

And if Thursday’s ceremony honoring Albert Pujols and Yadi Molina before their final game at Wrigley Field carried any significant meaning for Cubs fans — beyond “what the hell?” — it might have been as a reminder of the sizable vacancy behind the plate that the Cardinals need to fill before next season.

Pujols and Molina both have announced their retirements.

As one press box wag said before one of those Cubs-Cards game: “Why don’t you go ask Albert and Yadi if they want to be Cubs next year.”

Very funny.

On the other hand, anybody seen Willson?

The Cardinals checked in on Contreras before the deadline, and if you’re into nightmare scenarios, imagine St. Louis replacing the all-time Cardinal catcher with the Cubs’ fan favorite from the 2016 championship core.

Very funny?

Not so much.

The Cardinals have shown that a qualifying offer won't stop them from signing a free agent they want. In fact, the one time they signed a free agent with a QO attached was another Cub from that championship core, Dexter Fowler in the 2016-17 offseason (five years, $82.5 million)

And since then, the draft-pick cost for a team signing such a player has been significantly reduced under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Baseball insiders expect them to talk to Contreras this winter, and they could be as strong a fit for the best hitting, hardest-throwing catcher in the league as any team this side of Flushing, N.Y.

The Cubs are expected to at least monitor Contreras’ market, but their best chance to sign their emotional leader to a multiyear deal is a ship that likely sailed long ago.

Given the likelihood he goes elsewhere, the Cubs probably will get a supplemental draft pick between the first and second rounds for all that (lack of) maneuvering and data-driven ingenuity, for arguably one of the top two catchers in franchise history.

Consider that if the market were to fall to their desired range it’s likely to be in large part because they suppressed that market with the qualifying offer after crickets instead of extension talks all year and after dangling him in trade talks for months.

Talk about a kick in the teeth.

Contreras, who shared some of the emotion he experienced along the way this year, has said repeatedly he understands that’s all just business.

And when the Cardinals call this winter? And if their version of data-driven ingenuity shows the commitment the Cubs wouldn’t make?

And Contreras considers the honor of filling the shin guards of his idol for the Cubs’ arch rivals?

Hey, it’s just business.

Even if it looks and feels like another kick in the teeth.

Mervis Tick (... Tick... Tick…)

When Patrick Wisdom went on the injured list Sunday, tweeters wondered why the Cubs didn’t call up the organization’s hitter of the year to date, Matt Mervis, from Triple-A to get a look at him ahead of a crossroads winter for the front office (instead of the return of Alfonso Rivas).

The question was as good as the answer was obvious: The 2020 undrafted free agent (a certain early-round pick if not for that pandemic-abbreviated draft) isn’t on the 40-man roster. Also: He opened the season at A-ball and is already at his third level this season, finally getting some semblance of “challenge” at Triple-A — which is to say his OPS is only .926 for Iowa (after his 27th homer overall this season on Sunday, along with RBI’s 99 and 100).

“He’s had a special season,” farm director Jared Banner said. “Just making the adjustment from level to level as smoothly as he has after struggling a bit last year, after making those offseason adjustments … we’re really excited about him.”

Banner gushed about Mervis’ combination of contact and power from the left side, something that “just clicked” within his approach and awareness of his hitting zone this year.

Oh, yeah?

Now let’s see him pitch.

That’s no idle request. The kid with the mid-90s fastball at Duke looked competitive as a reliever in the Cape Cod League the summer before he was drafted.

Stay tuned.

Dodger (Black and) Blue

The painful and ultimately (shamefully?) hilarious slide-gone-wrong by Dodgers broadcaster David Vassegh down Bernie Brewer’s famous Chalet slope overlooking American Family Field, nee Miller Park, also was historic for the decades-old attraction that has spanned two Milwaukee stadiums.

Vassegh, who was being filmed for the broadcast when the Dodgers recently visited, broke his wrist and cracked six ribs when he (roll-out-the) barrel-rolled from the bottom of the slide across the platform and into the padded wall a few feet away — the first known broken bones experience by any “Bernie,” player, coach, celebrity or sundry interloper to have made the slippery descent.

(However, esteemed Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy recently chronicled a piece of local lore involving an ankle injury).

Not that we’re laughing at Vassegh, who gamely returned from the hospital in time to pull off a one-armed broadcast. No, the Dodger players and staff have had that covered ever since the history-making mishap.

But the Press Box Wag did happen to be in attendance for the, um, fallout — and, for the record, did not roll his own sizable backside down the slide.

“No, I’m not that dumb.”

Actually, that was Dodger manager Dave Roberts after he was asked if he’d ever tried the slide atop the highest tier of the stadium, the one with the American Family Insurance logo prominently, if not poignantly, displayed across Bernie’s perch.

As the sage and observant Dodgers analyst Rick Monday (the former Cub) said: “Never go on a ride sponsored by an insurance company.”

Gratuitous Hot Take of the Week

The White Sox are the most disappointing on-field baseball story of the season.

They don’t catch the ball well; they often don’t know where they’re throwing it; they don’t run well; they don’t slug; and they don’t manage very well.

Other than that, sometimes they don’t suck.

DeRo’s Order Patrol

Some of us who have been around the Cubs long enough to remember popular infielder Mark DeRosa on those 2007 and ’08 playoff teams plan to watch with keen interest and a smirk at how he handles his lineup card now that he’s been named Team USA manager for next year’s World Baseball Classic.

Nobody got more agitated and upset at Lou Piniella’s notorious late-afternoon lineup arrivals in the clubhouse than DeRosa, the ultra-versatile, talented infielder, who often didn’t know until then where he was batting, what position he was playing, or even if he was playing.

Here’s hoping for DeRosa’s sake that Team USA’s title defense is a push-button operation.

Tweet of the Week

Submitted without comment.

Salty and Saltier

The Cubs just added Joe Girardi, the former Cubs catcher and managerial runner-up to David Ross, to their MOPE network’s confounding cast of thousands of former and peripheral Cubs rotating through the studio and booth.

He seemed to be received with generally positive reviews during his debut homestand for the Marquee Overly Positive Embellishment (MOPE) broadcast.

While that represents a nice step, we offer two suggestions for additions/replacements who would instantly raise the watchability and credibility of the network’s analysis by leaps and bounds:

Brandon “Salt” Kintzler, who just signed a minor-league deal with the Padres as a possible bullpen contributor down the stretch, is refreshingly honest and candid — a delightful curmudgeon, whose attitude belies his relative, 30-something youth (having earned the “Salt” nickname as a minor-leaguer, in fact). The perfect analyst once he decides he’s done pitching.

Did somebody say “candid” and “attitude”? Former Cubs’ World Series-champion catcher Miguel Montero is so honest and candid he got DFA’d in a scapegoat move by the Cubs’ brass in 2017 when he called out Jake Arrieta for not holding on runners after a Nats-gone-wild night on the bases for Trea Turner and Michael A.Taylor. The postgame comments seemed to bother Arrieta least of anyone involved, because, as the pitcher said, Montero was not wrong.

No need to thank us. Always there for our MOPE pals.

Note: This story was updated to include the Dexter Fowler information.

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