Press Box Wag

Why Cubs' Contreras ready to answer if Cardinals call


Whatever comes next for Willson Contreras in his All-Star career, he’s ready for every option, any team in free agency and considers this crossroads in his career a “goal” and a “dream coming true” that he has earned.

And if anyone believes he hasn’t considered what it might be like crossing over to the other side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry when Yadier Molina retires after the season, then he’s not the only one dreaming.

“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Contreras said.

The National League’s starting catcher in three of the last four All-Star games said he hasn’t talked to Molina yet about the Cardinals infrastructure and culture as the NL Central champs prepare for the playoffs again.

But he has talked to former teammate and close friend Jose Quintana since Quintana was traded to the Cardinals at the deadline.

“He said it’s a really good team and he likes it there,” Contreras said. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

First up is a lengthy discussion with his agent over what the market might bear at 30 for the athletic, strong-armed catcher coming off his best offensive year at a time MLB is bringing rules changes next year designed to incentivize more action on the bases (with larger bases and step-off/throw-over limits).

A qualifying offer likely to be around $19 million remains in play as an option, said Contreras, who acknowledged in his next breath that this winter probably offers his best shot at his biggest, multiyear contract.

“If it happens for me to go to a different team, I’m ready for it. I’m not afraid,” he said. “I know what I can do on and off the field. And there’s always room to improve. I’m only 30 years old. I’m looking forward to having a really great career at the end.”

Are the Cubs listening? They haven’t broached extension talks with him for years.

Are the Cardinals? They checked in on Contreras at the trade deadline and are expected to approach him in free agency.

“If they want me there, I’ll be there,” Contreras said. “If they want me here, I’ll be here. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Sources say the Cubs expect to see how his market plays out before closing the door on a reunion, but that looks like a longshot at best, considering it will be their unwillingness to trade him at the deadline and to tag him with a qualifying offer that will be part of contributing to any softening of his market.

Contreras admitted to some “anxiousness” as he approaches the offseason. But he also said he’s excited for opportunities that might await.

“This is a part of my life that I always wanted to be in and was one of my goals since I got to the big leagues,” he said of a determination upon his debut to never go back to the minors and to earn a long career.

He and Kris Bryant are the only members of the homegrown championship core that never got sent back down.

“And now I’m a few days from free agency,” he said. “It’s like a dream coming true.”

Claiming His Spot

In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cubs’ Great 40-Man Roster Crunch of 2022 isn’t going to leave newcomer Franmil Reyes out in the cold.

“I think he’ll be part of our fit next year and really help us out,” manager David Ross said Saturday of the slugger the Cubs claimed off waivers from Cleveland in August.

If there was any doubt about how the jovial big man fit in this year — or his own desire to claim a spot in Chicago — it was gone by the time rookies Chris Morel and Nelson Velazquez saw Reyes’ minor dugout renovation a few days ago.

On the wall above the end of the bench, athletic tape was affixed with the words “No Morel” and “No Velazquez,” then below that a downward arrow and “Only Franmil Area.”

As Morel explained with a shrug and a smile: “I put my glove here, and Franmil didn’t like it.”

Size Matters

Apparently, Ross has run the metrics on the impact MLB's new larger bases next year will have on incentivizing runners to try to get to second base more often, if not third.

"I think 4 1/2 inches does make a little bit of a difference," the manager said.

(Hey, get your mind out of the gutter.)

Wade’s World

Wade Miley got what’s likely his final appearance of an injury-plagued season Saturday against the Reds and delivered two, characteristically quick, scoreless innings against the team that put him on waivers last winter rather than exercise his $10 million contract option.

Miley made only eight starts for the Cubs (plus the relief appearance) this season, but he left a lasting impression in the clubhouse with a respected viewpoint, pro demeanor and quick wit (not to mention a locker cabinet with more bottles of quality liquor than Nisei Lounge).

Even ex-Cubs seek him out when they visit.

“There you are. I thought you must have been in the weight room,” former Arizona teammate Miguel Montero deadpanned when he eventually found Miley the other day in the clubhouse.

“Come on,” Miley said with a big smile. “I don’t know where the weight room is.”

Miley, who once good-naturedly wrote “Forrest Gump” above rookie Matt Swarmer’s locker because he said the kid looked like the movie character, said he wants to keep pitching but doesn’t know what offers the winter will bring.

It probably won’t be with the Cubs. And he’ll have a lot to prove to somebody on the mound after this year.

But he’ll make somebody’s clubhouse better.

Have We Met?

Left-hander Steven Brault headed to Arizona during the final homestand to rehab his shoulder strain but not before leaving behind a good impression among teammates with an upbeat, offbeat personality.

But we still can’t shake the feeling we’ve had for months that we’ve seen this guy somewhere before.

Voice of an Era for the Cubs

Ross was an undisputed leader in the clubhouse for the Cubs’ 2016 championship during his final season as a player. But listen to what he says about why the most famous rain-delay meeting in baseball history was so impactful coming in particular from teammate Jason Heyward, who played his final game for the Cubs in June:

“It’s not like he’s the most vocal person in the room. It’s not who he is,” Ross said. “But when he speaks it carries so much weight, because it’s just direct, to the point; it’s said the right way; it’s said in a positive way.

“It’s not a voice that is always just talking to talk. He’s got a point to what he’s saying, and it’s usually a really good one, every time I’ve heard him speak.

“When he tells you something you listen because he’s not in your ear all the time.”

One Step Forward

From the Give-Credit-Where-Credit’s-Due Department, the Cubs’ video production crew put out a first-class, very cool video for fan appreciation weekend, using a drone for a high-speed, four-minute tour through the immediate neighborhood of relevant game-day sights, sounds and activity.

Easily the Cubs’ best performance since Seiya Suzuki’s first 11 games.

Press box wag: “Who says the Cubs aren’t investing in the product?”

Two Steps Back

About the same time the drone video launched, the Cubs unveiled their tone-deaf design mowed into the outfield grass to thank fans at Wrigley Field this season.

Well, to express gratitude to those who shelled out big bucks for season tickets for the second year of their tank/rebuild and non-competitive season. StubHub bargain hunters and single-game buyers be damned.

Spoiler Alert

Ross said he’s not a big fan of the spoiler role, but for what it’s worth the Cubs played a decisive role in how the NL playoff field lines up.

Consider they went 6-0 against the Phillies after last week’s sweep, 5-2 against the Mets, 2-5 against the Padres, 3-3 against the Braves and 10-9 against the Brewers.

If the Mets had done nothing more than go 4-3 against the Cubs, they would have had a half-game lead in the NL East — and for the important first-round playoff bye that will come with that division title — with two days (three games) to play, even after getting swept by the Braves over the weekend. Instead, the Braves held a 1 1/2-game lead.

And that doesn't count knocking the Phillies into a likely West Coast trip for their wild-card matchup instead of a home series.

Not that any of it will make a cold Chicago October any warmer this year.

Just saying.

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