Contreras rejects qualifying offer from Cubs

November 15th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras is facing free agency after exiting Chicago as the longest-tenured player in the organization. The Cubs formally offered a scenario in which the All-Star catcher could stay for at least one more season, but Contreras will seek a multi-year pact on the open market.

Per multiple sources, Contreras officially rejected the one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer for 2023 prior to Tuesday's deadline.

At his season-end press conference last month, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made it known that such an offer would arrive, and the Cubs took that step on Thursday.

Contreras said at the end of the season that he would "have to consider" the offer, but at the same time the catcher added that reaching free agency was a "dream come true," given his career path. Rejecting the offer and signing with a new team would net the Cubs a compensatory pick in next year's MLB Draft.

"This is the first time that, basically, I don't have a team since 2008," Contreras said at the end of the season. "And it's a lot different, because I'm in a spot that I've dreamed to be in. This is a spot I wanted to be since I was a kid. I did everything I could to reach free agency.

"It makes me proud. At the same time, it makes me a little nostalgic to leave my team. But everything happens for a reason and I'm ready for whatever comes next."

Contreras, who will turn 31 in May, is one of baseball's top offensive catchers who also boasts plus arm strength. The catcher has improved his all-around defensive play in recent seasons, but there remain aspects of that side of his game that could be enhanced.

As Contreras weighs his free-agent future, the Cubs have a pair of catchers in the fold in veteran Yan Gomes and backup P.J. Higgins. Chicago will likely look for more depth behind the plate this winter, prioritizing defense and game-calling as part of that part of the roster.

"It's a two-way position," Hoyer said on Wednesday at the GM Meetings. "Obviously you want guys that can hit, but it's a run-prevention position. So much of it is game-calling, preparation, feeling strongly about that everything that pitchers do is a 'we' thing. It's about that teamwork and that collaboration."

Signed out of Venezuela in 2009, Contreras converted to catching in the Minor Leagues and then rose to the Majors in 2016 in time to help the Cubs win a World Series. Following David Ross' retirement as a player, Contreras took over as Jon Lester's personal catcher, while also forming a strong bond with veteran righty Kyle Hendricks.

Over the course of seven years in the big leagues, Contreras has slashed .256/.349/.459 in 734 games, earning starts for the National League All-Star team in 2018, '19 and '22. This past season, Contreras embraced more of a mentorship role with some of the team's younger players and ended with a .243/.349/.466 slash line, 22 homers and 55 RBIs in 113 games.

Contreras posted a career-best 128 OPS+ while also dealing with non-stop trade speculation in the first half. ESPN's Jeff Passan recently reported, and sources confirmed at the GM Meetings, that the Cubs and Astros actually had a tentative agreement in place before the Deadline on a one-for-one deal that would have sent righty José Urquidy to the Cubs. Houston wound up backing out of the deal.

That set the stage for two more months in a Cubs uniform for Contreras, who reiterated at the end of the year that he was "at peace" with wherever this next chapter of his career would take him.

"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."