How Cubs can move on from Contreras

December 9th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian's Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

had multiple moments to raise his cap to Cubs fans last summer, when he dealt with trade rumors, stayed put through the Deadline and then faced the countdown to free agency. The catcher left Chicago as the longest-tenured player in the organization.

Now, Contreras will return next season as a member of the rival Cardinals.

“There's only 29 other teams people can sign with,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of Contreras adopting the birds on the bat. “This is going to happen from time to time. It doesn't take away from what he did for the organization for a long time.”

Contreras’ story is well-documented. The Cubs signed him out of Venezuela as an infielder in 2009 and worked on converting him to catcher in the Minor Leagues. He was exposed to the Rule 5 Draft multiple times before an incredible 2015 season at Double-A. By ’16, he was celebrating a long-awaited World Series title with the Cubs, who saw him grow into a three-time All-Star behind the plate.

With longtime Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina now retired, St. Louis reeled in Contreras with a five-year pact worth a reported $87.5 million. Even with Contreras being one of the game’s elite talents at his position, that is not the type of deal the Cubs would have been looking for with a catcher entering his age-31 season. Chicago will receive a compensatory Draft pick in 2023 since Contreras declined a one-year qualifying offer to return.

“Listen, I wish him the best,” Hoyer said. “I admire how much he fought through his early struggles and obviously, starting in 2015, he really came on. We won a World Series with him. I admire just his toughness and resilience behind the plate. He played hurt a lot. He always came to the ballpark wanting to play. Obviously, he signed with the Cardinals, but I wish him happiness. He gave us a lot of happiness, and I wish him the same.”

At the end of last season, Contreras was at peace with the idea of signing with a new team.

“Right after the Trade Deadline,” Contreras said, “I said to myself, like, 'If I don't come back to this team, just know that you did everything you could to help this team to win.' And that's something that is true. Because I play with my heart every single day. … I know that when I walk out of the gate or out of the door, I did everything for this team.”

Where does this leave the Cubs’ catching situation?

Chicago has veteran under contract for 2023 and a capable backup in , who has doubled as a utility man of sorts. On the free-agent market, the Cubs have potential targets in , and , among others. An intriguing trade possibility would be from the A’s.

“Yan, he did a really good job. I don't think he can play 162 games,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. “P.J. did a really good job as well and is a guy that we feel really strongly is a great member of the team. And we definitely would feel comfortable with him as the backup to Yan, if that's where we end up.

“But at the same time, there's some good catchers out there on the market and on the trade market as well. So, we'll continue to engage those and kind of compare that to our alternatives, both with our prospects and with our dollars.”