Willson Contreras has been doing his best to block out all the noise, but he admitted during the Cubs’ last homestand that the trade rumors had finally gotten to him. He was greeted by standing ovations in each at-bat of what was almost certainly his final home game at Wrigley and shared embraces with Ian Happ, both in the victory line and in the dugout as fans sang their favorite song.
The rumors didn’t get any quieter in San Francisco, where Contreras was emotional once again as he faced the reality of no longer being employed by the only organization he’s ever known. That was the focus of the ESPN broadcast, to the point that Buster Olney’s interview with David Ross included a question about how Contreras was handling all the trade talks.
As Ross began to answer, Contreras squeezed past him to take his spot behind the plate. That he was catching at all in that situation was mildly interesting, as was Happ patrolling left field. Maybe that was just the manager’s way of keeping them busy so their minds couldn’t wander. Lord knows waiting makes time stretch like taffy.
“It’s going to be a long day,” Contreras said after the game. “It’s been a long, long, long, long week, long, long month for me. But I’m ready for this to be over.”
He probably could have said the same thing even if he wasn’t spending the entire season waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, this hasn’t been the most enjoyable campaign of his career. Funny how that works when you are promoted to a team expected to win a World Series. Contreras was candid about the situation without getting derogatory, though I suppose one could interpret a little bitterness here if that’s what you’re looking for.
More than that, it sounds like he’s very well aware of the reports out there and is trying to dispel concerns about his ability to handle a pitching staff.
“I care, man,” Contreras told reporters. “I care a lot about my pitchers. I care a lot about game calling. I care a lot about making the team better. I care a lot about winning. I know this team is not made to win this year — not even close. But I learned a lot from this team too, from losing. I learned a lot.”
— OBVIOUS SHIRTS® (@obvious_shirts) August 1, 2022
Olney gave credence to the talk about Contreras being a below-average catcher in several of the metrics tied to important aspects of that defensive craft, noting that Contreras is coveted for his offensive output. While that shouldn’t greatly diminish the Cubs’ return in the end, I can’t help but wonder whether giving him 141 plate appearances as a DH may have hurt perception of him from the outside.
I had initially thought balancing his playing time might help a bit due to the boost in offense, and that could still be the case, but the persistent narrative of the last few weeks is saying otherwise. It sounds like the Cubs were never engaged in extension talks anyway, so any attempt to manipulate the slugger’s value in terms of inking a long-term deal would have been for naught.
Is that reading too much into the matter? Maybe, but teams will pull out all the stops when it comes to saving a few million dollars or parting with less in “prospect currency” to acquire a player. All that smoke makes it hard to breathe this time of year, which is why I’m thankful the Cubs don’t play again until after 5pm CT on August 2. Sounds like Contreras feels the same way.
“I just want this to be over,” the catcher reiterated. “If they want to trade me, they want to trade me. If they don’t want to trade me, then don’t. But I just want this day to pass and keep focused on playing baseball.”