Willson Contreras signed with the Chicago Cubs on July 2, 2009. And until Wednesday, they were the only organization he knew.
Contreras, considered one of the best offensive receivers in Cubs history, agreed to a deal Wednesday with the St. Louis Cardinals, who would have given him a five-year, $87.5 million contract to replace the retired catcher Yadier Molina.
Contreras, 30, said succeeding Molina would be “one of the great honors of my entire life”.
“I couldn’t be more excited about coming to St. Louis,” Contreras wrote Thursday in an article for The Players’ Tribune titled “Let’s do this, St. Louis!” “It’s a dream come true, that’s for sure. At the same time, though, I’d be lying if I tried to say this wasn’t going to be a huge change for me…like it was no big deal.
Contreras remembers being 16 when the Cubs took him out of his hometown of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, when he was “barely old enough to drive a car.”
“I didn’t know English,” he wrote. “All I knew was baseball. And the Cubs.
Contreras won a World Series ring in his rookie season in 2016, the Cubs’ first championship since 1908.
“And I couldn’t be more grateful that this is how things turned out for me, either,” he wrote. “I’ve been so lucky to be part of the Cubs family for the past 13 years. It was an amazing ride! I mean, winning a World Series right off the bat? In my rookie season? It’s not much better. And it is an experience I will never forget.
Contreras, a three-time National League All-Star, had a .256/.349/.459 slash line and 115 OPS+ in seven seasons on the North Side. He hit 22 homers in 2022 to become the first catcher in franchise history and the 17th Cub overall to record at least four 20-homer seasons.
A first-inning grand slam on May 16 against the Pittsburgh Pirates was Contreras’ 100th career home run; only two other Cubs catchers, Gabby Hartnett and Jody Davis, had ever reached that milestone.
“I know I’ve given the Cubs everything over the years,” Contreras wrote. “I did everything I could to help make the team better. I played through injuries. Left everything there on the pitch. I’m proud of what I brought.
“So I don’t regret having turned the page. I worked extremely hard for many years to get to this place, to be in this position. It’s something I dreamed of: building a career that would allow me to get to where I am right now. And I go forward knowing that I did everything I could for my team.
“But now my team is the Cardinals.”
Contreras will face his former team for the first time in a three-game series May 8-10 at Wrigley Field. National League rivals Central will also face off in the MLB London Series on June 24-25.
“I will leave my heart on the pitch for this team. For this city. For St. Louis,” he wrote.
“This is a team that is built to win. They’re built to win now, and they’re built to win in the future, too. … I can’t wait to spend time with each of them, get to know them and start working for a world championship. I know what it takes to get there. I’m determined to come back – I want it more than anything. So it couldn’t be more win-win. It’s the perfect match. I am excited to begin.
“Now let’s go out and win titles together, St. Louis.”