Catchers Gomes, Contreras bond over shared goal

Veteran acquisition diffuses tension with longtime Cubs backstop

April 4th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- Yan Gomes did not want to have any awkwardness in his interactions with Willson Contreras. After the Cubs' new catcher arrived to Spring Training, he had a conversation with Contreras to make sure they could hit the ground running.

"We both just were talking," Gomes said. "And I was like, 'Hey, it's not me against you or anything like that. I'm not here to take anybody's spot. I'm here to get the team better.'"

Gomes signed with the Cubs over the offseason and saw some of the speculation that followed his two-year contract. Contreras will be eligible for free agency next winter, making the two-time All-Star a trade candidate, especially with a capable catcher in Gomes on the roster.

Being primed to take over as Chicago's starting catcher is not what Gomes has in mind. And while rumors and reports about Contreras' future will undoubtedly persist -- especially given the backdrop of last season's wave of blockbuster trades involving core stars -- Gomes felt obligated to make sure he was not adding to the potential distractions.

"I did," Gomes said. "Obviously, reading everything out there, a lot of the rumors, I just wanted him to know, 'Hey, you're the starter. You're the main guy. I'm just here for whatever it is they want to do. I'm here to strengthen both of us instead of making this a little bit of a harder deal."

That conversation carried a lot of weight with Contreras.

"When you go to a new team and you are the type of guy that is really humble and says that," Contreras said, "it means a lot to me. It means he's a great guy. He's a great person. He's not selfish."

Back in December, when Gomes signed his two-year, $13 million pact with the Cubs, which included a team option for 2024, Contreras could not help but wonder what it meant. There had been no headway in extension talks with the Cubs, who have gone year-to-year with their star catcher via arbitration.

Did the arrival of Gomes -- an All-Star, Silver Slugger recipient and World Series champion -- cement Contreras' eventual exit?

"I had some thoughts. I wouldn't say no. I'm human," Contreras said. " A lot of times, I'm overthinking a lot, especially in the offseason."

Those thoughts carried over to Spring Training, but Gomes eased any potential tension.

"Since I got here and I got to meet Yan, everything for me changed," Contreras said. "He's a great guy. He's going to help me a lot. I told him, when he came to me and said, 'Hey, I'm here for you. Anything you need,' my answer was, 'Let's work together and win some ballgames.'"

Contreras is hopeful that he and Gomes can form the kind of bond the Cubs' primary catcher had with Victor Caratini. They bounced ideas off each other and found a rhythm with how they divided the playing time to help keep each other feeling fresh and productive.

Prior to last season, the Cubs traded Caratini to the Padres as part of the Yu Darvish deal, and Chicago felt the impact in '21. The Cubs cycled through eight backup catchers, putting a great deal of pressure on Contreras to carry a heavy workload.

"It's a really hard position in-season to replace," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said.

Contreras was leading all Major League catcher in innings caught (793) into August last season until a right knee issue flared and sidelined him for multiple weeks.

"It was really tough," Contreras said. "I won't lie. There were a few days where my body didn't feel good, but I just had the right mindset to play through pain, through a lot of things. But at the end of the day, the team needed me."

What the team needs in 2022 is for Contreras and Gomes -- with the help of the designated hitter coming to the National League -- to find ways to get the most out of each other and the pitching staff. The Cubs do not want a repeat of last season's revolving door behind their No. 1 catcher.

"Having a stabilizing force like Yan made a ton of sense," Hoyer said. "I also think that we've overplayed Willson. Everyone admits it. He'll always play. And he has energy, but we'd rather get a much better Willson that's not exhausted."

That was the same message Gomes wanted Contreras to hear from him, too.

"The biggest thing," Gomes said, "his bat's going to be in the lineup no matter what. Whether I've got to spell him a couple games a week or whatever it is, if we can keep Willson fresh and healthy, hey, I think that's going to be a better thing for the team."