Press Box Wag

On bobblehead snubs, Oscar slaps and reaping what you sow


Get your fill of Willson Contreras as a Cub while the getting is good.

If we — and Contreras — didn’t already know the two-time All-Star was headed for an end to his Cubs career every bit as unceremonious as the championship-core players jettisoned in the past 16 months, the Cubs’ business department nodded, and nodded, and nodded again, in agreement last week.

That’s right: The man who once almost single-handedly beat the White Sox on his bobblehead day in 2018 was left out of the Cubs’ bobblehead promotions this year.

Patrick Wisdom has a bobblehead day. So does manager David Ross, pitcher Marcus Stroman and middle infielders Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal.

None for the guy who made history as a rookie with five starts during the World Series and started two All-Star games since then.

Talk about free Willy.

Contreras suspected his days might be numbered when he watched the Cubs embark on a roster rebuild with the nine trades last July — including three fellow All-Star, championship core players in the final 20 hours before the trade deadline.

He Twitter-trolled followers with departing airplane emojis when the Cubs signed former All-Star catcher Yan Gomes to a two-year deal Dec. 1.

And now comes the bobblehead snub.

Hell, he and the team couldn’t even agree on enough to get a one-year contract done to avoid filing arbitration figures last week — never mind extension talks.

“I’m not worried about anything like that,” he told beat writers on the arbitration-filing day. “Nothing has changed for me. No hard feelings.”

He already talked the day he arrived at camp about the “dream come true” that free agency might represent next fall. And he knows better than most how likely a trade before then looks.

“I understand that the Chicago Cubs are in a rebuild right now,” he said. “And if they can get good packages, they’re going to do whatever they do best for the team. Anyways, whatever happens, happens.”

Meanwhile, he’ll keep his head on a swivel for whatever comes next in his career.

Which for the next few weeks and months might make him his own best, real-life bobblehead promotion.

Chelsea dagger?

The Ricketts family, along with bidding partner Ken Griffin, are among four finalists in bidding for the Chelsea FC Premier League team said to be worth more than $3 billion — but the Cubs owners’ interest in the team was met with public backlash over family patriarch Joe Ricketts’ old Islamophobic emails even before his son Tom’s plane landed in London last week.

Some media reports, as well as a conversation Thursday with a reporter from a prominent U.K. business journal, suggested that while the finalist status was all but assured, the ugly sentiments expressed in the decade-old emails — revealed publicly in 2019 — might ultimately help derail a chance at a successful bid.

Four of Chelsea’s top players are Muslim, along with a large cross-section of its fan base, making the public blowback especially personal for many of the team’s supporters. And in a process already fraught with politics — the sale by the team’s Russian oligarch owner compelled by war-related sanctions — those concerns could be costly to the Ricketts bid.

If it does cost them the soccer team, it’ll be their own fault, after years of trading off the Cubs brand to raise the family’s political profile and very public influence, while angering a chunk of their own fans in Chicago along the way and inviting the kind of scrutiny that led to the hacked emails and exposure.

Maybe that stuff does come with a price, after all, even for the rich and powerful.

“Ohtani Rule”

With news of the so-called Ohtani Rule that allows any pitcher in the batting order to stay in the game as the DH after he’s done pitching, makes you wonder who the first pitcher not named Shohei Ohtani will be who gets used that way in this new universal-DH world of baseball.

Maybe Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner, who has two Silver Slugger awards, 19 career home runs and once lobbied to participate in the All-Star Home Run Derby?

Maybe. But the more obvious answer is Ohtani’s Angels teammate, Michael Lorenzen, a pitcher so proficient at the plate and athletic that he has six career starts in center field and 29 career pinch-hit appearances (.827 OPS).

He also has Joe Maddon for a manager, which makes this the surest thing since Illinois getting bounced in the first weekend of the men’s NCAA tournament.

Which actually probably makes this the “Maddon Rule.”

“Ohtani rules!”

Forgive young Cubs pitcher Justin Steele for being a little awestruck last week facing Ohtani, who won the American League MVP Award with an almost unprecedented combination of superstar-level hitting and pitching.

“He’s one of the greatest players, a modern-day Babe Ruth,” Steele gushed to beat writers, adding that he’d spent the previous night thinking about the matchup. “So it’s really cool to face somebody like him of his stature.”

In true Ruthian fashion, Ohtani drew a walk off Steele, re-enacting something the Sultan of OPS did more often than anyone except Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson.

Take the poll

Nice to see sports make a comeback at the Oscars, albeit in a bizarre slap-boxing sort of way between Will Smith and Chris Rock Sunday night. Not exactly the stuff of Rocky or Raging Bull — and bearing no resemblance at all to Smith’s Ali performance.

Of course, when it comes to sports it's been hard to take the Academy and its awards show seriously since Bull Durham got snubbed in 1989. That still has several press box wags chapped enough to ignore any Oscars not named Madison.

But in the spirit of awards — and Bull Durham — we offer this week’s Twitter poll:


Spring training fare recommendation of the week: Cheba Hut “Toasted” Subs on 7th Street in Phoenix just north of the Diamondbacks ballpark. The quotations are theirs, along with the “If you’re high, we’ll fly” delivery motto. But you don’t have to be into their counter-culture vibe to enjoy this joint and its signature hot subs at reasonable prices.

Contract clause of the week

Not only did former Cubs’ left-hander Brooks Raley get a surprisingly robust two-year, $10 million deal from the Rays for a pre-arbitration reliever with a career 5.62 ERA. But the way his contract is written looks like a possible template for pitchers who might be used as “openers” if the recent practice of teams such as the Rays grows into a bigger trend.

In addition to the $4.25 million this year and $4.5 million next (plus 2024 option), Raley can earn bonuses worth up to $450,000 for reaching incremental thresholds for relatively short starts — including $350,000 of that for starts of at least three innings.

He can increase the value of his $6.5 million option for 2024 by $1 million each of the next two years with 25 such starts per season.

In fact, 20 starts of less than three innings are worth $100,000 per year in bonuses.

Raley hasn’t started a game since starts his first five big-league appearances, for the Cubs in 2012. He has 102 consecutive appearances in relief since, including 14 in the postseason.

The Stebbinator

Speaking of awards, if there was one for free agent predictions, NBC Sports Chicago’s ace Cubs writer and prognosticator, Tim Stebbins, should win it.

Stebbins hit .667 on his landing-spot projections for the three remaining ex-Cubs core players during the lockout.

Stebbins called Anthony Rizzo’s return to the Yankees and Kyle Schwarber’s signing with the Phillies — missing only on the Kris Bryant-Rockies signing that wound up a head-scratcher to most of the industry.

For personal horoscopes and next week’s lottery numbers, follow Stebs on Twitter: @tim_stebbins.

Click here to subscribe to the Cubs Talk Podcast for free.

Contact Us