Willson Contreras does not enjoy being out of the Cubs' lineup. In fact, the catcher hopes the designated hitter returns to the National League, so manager David Ross can pencil Contreras' name into the order more often.
On Friday, when the offseason sat only a few days away for Chicago, Contreras sat in Busch Stadium's visitors' dugout and accepted his partial day off. Prior to a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, the catcher met with reporters and reflected on the Cubs' roller coaster of a season.
"For me, it was a learning experience once again," Contreras said. "It was a difficult year. We all know that. It was a year of making adjustments and accepting a lot of things."
Contreras used that word -- accepting -- multiple times throughout his 15-minute discussion. He referred to the belief that the North Siders had a team built to win, but factors out of the players' control led to a franchise-altering Trade Deadline and an overhauled, unfamiliar roster in the waning months.
Contreras reached the Majors in 2016 and won a World Series with the star-studded core group that included Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. In every year of the catcher's career, Chicago has made the playoffs or contended deep into September.
That is, until this year.
"It's hard to accept going from a winning team to a losing team," Contreras said. "It takes a while to accept that things turned around."
From the bench on Friday night, when the Cardinals played with a Wild Card spot already wrapped up, Contreras watched Cory Abbott make his first Major League start. The righty logged five solid innings with catcher Erick Castillo, who on Thursday became the 66th player used this year by the Cubs (a National League record). Both players also collected their first career hits in St. Louis.
Friday's lineup also included rookies Frank Schwindel, Trent Giambrone and Sergio Alcántara. There have been a lot of career firsts and comeback stories in recent days, providing some feel-good moments down the stretch. Trayce Thompson provided the latest example with a three-run, go-ahead homer in the sixth.
"I've got to be honest with you, it's exciting," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It's refreshing to see."
For Contreras, he is looking forward to seeing what comes next. Specifically, the catcher will be interested to monitor how the Cubs' front office approaches this offseason, especially as he will enter his final year of club control in '22. Contreras wants to win, as he showed in the ninth, entering as a pinch-hitter and delivering a leadoff double into the right-field corner.
With the game caught in a 3-3 deadlock, Contreras then tried to score on a Rafael Ortega single to left. The Cubs’ catcher was cut down at the plate.
"Hopefully they make good decisions in the offseason," Contreras said. "Go into the free-agent market and get some players to help build around."
What does Contreras think the Cubs need?
"I'll be honest. I think we need some pitching," he said. "We have power guys, but we need some command guys. We need some starters. And then offensively, I think we probably need a couple more bats to build a solid team."
What about a shortstop?
"For sure," Contreras said with a smile. "I'm not going to say no."
Contreras -- the NL's starting catcher in the All-Star Game in 2018 and '19 -- was asked if the team's approach this offseason could be important in his decision on whether to enter into extension talks.
"It's really important," said Contreras, who is the longest-tenured player in the organization. "This is the only team I've been playing for, 13 years. So, I would love to stay here, for sure.
"Do I want to go to a different city, a different team? No. But I'm not thinking about it right now. I'm just seeing what the future holds for us and, hopefully, it's the best."
Contreras admitted that he was surprised to get through the Trade Deadline this year without being dealt. After hearing his name in rumors through multiple winters and Deadlines in the past, he was ready to hear that news.
Instead, Rizzo went first to the Yankees on July 29, followed by Báez (Mets) and Bryant (Giants) the next day. Those were only a few of the players dealt away by Chicago, which injected a heap of prospect talent into its farm.
"I'm still here and I'm happy to be here," Contreras said. "And I'm looking forward to staying here."
The catcher reiterated that he is "open to anything" when it comes to extension talks. But, he has heard president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer say this will not be a long rebuild, and Contreras wants to see how that process plays out.
"I'm not sure how long it's going to take," Contreras said. "I wish I could have a timeframe for that rebuild, but I'm here to help this team to win in as many ways as I can."