Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer definitely said all the right things about wide receiver Willson Contreras after his deal with the St. Louis Cardinals was revealed.
The Cubs will miss him.
Oh, he was a wonderful person.
Good luck in the world, Willson.
That was everything you would expect Cubs management to say after losing one of the team’s best players to their biggest rival.
But what we haven’t heard is why.
Why didn’t the Cubs want to keep Contreras?
After all this time, we still don’t know the real reason.
Just because he was a free agent doesn’t mean the Cubs couldn’t negotiate a deal, like the New York Yankees did with Aaron Judge when they signed him to a $360 million deal on nine years to stay in pinstripes for probably the rest of his career.
Contreras is no Judge Aaron, of course – or even an “arson judge” for that matter.
But he was the top receiver in the free-agent market, as evidenced by the five-year, $87.5 million contract he got from the Cardinals to replace retired Yadier Molina.
Yes, that’s a lot of money, but it’s certainly affordable for a team like the Cubs, who probably could have had it for less had they made a half-hearted effort to retain Contreras.
Everyone agreed that Contreras was a great player and a special person.
Cubs fans adored him so much that they gave him a three-month goodbye at Wrigley Field. He was always accommodating to the media, answering question after question about his future when he had no real answers. Manager David Ross has professed his love for Contreras and knows deep in his heart that they are not a better team without the veteran receiver in the roster.
Still, there has never been a hint in the past two years that the Cubs were at all interested in re-signing him. A five-year contract is not so important that it would freeze the payroll by the end of the contract. He was always in good shape, played against nagging injuries more often and had the kind of passion that few Cubs players have ever shown. His hatred for rival Milwaukee Brewers was so evident that it was no wonder their pitchers treated him like human pincushion.
If the Cubs had a young receiver in the system ready to take his place, they might have had good reason to let him go with only a compensatory draft pick in return. If they had a substitute good enough to take Contreras’ playing time without much of an offensive drop, some of us would understand the reasoning.
But they don’t have a suitable replacement and will apparently go with Yan Gomes as their main receiver, with a replacement to be signed later. If that’s a sign that a team is going, we’re all in trouble.
So what are we missing here? Why couldn’t the Cubs keep one of their most popular players in years, one who is still in his prime at 30?
Hoyer went to winter meetings with cash to spend, and he appears to be keeping his promise to do just that.
Maybe Jameson Taillon is worth $68 million over four years to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, and maybe Cody Bellinger is worth taking a flyer with on a 17-year contract, $5 million. And even if the Cubs ended up spending big on a shortstop, there was a way to fit Contreras into the budget.
If Hoyer had given Contreras the combined money he spent on Taillon and Bellinger, the Cubs would be in better shape and the fans would have carried it on their shoulders.
Now they’re about to find out if Contreras will be their worst nightmare come true, leading the Cardinals to the playoffs and becoming a Cub killer like the man he replaces. The sight of Contreras donning a Cardinals jersey will be a sad thing for Cubs fans to watch, and watching him play at Wrigley Field for the next five years will be heartbreaking for many.
It might not be Brock-for-Broglio, the infamous deal that sent Hall of Famer Lou Brock to the Cardinals for sore pitcher Ernie Broglio, often called the worst trade in baseball history. But there was no Twitter in the 1960s when Brock’s success was rubbed in the faces of Cubs fans. If Contreras continues to be an All-Star caliber player in St. Louis, it will be impossible to ignore the taunts from Cardinals Nation.
So get ready for the “Welcome Back, Willson” video tribute when he returned to Wrigley in May and more compliments from the Cubs brass on all the great things Contreras has done in Chicago.
But all the words will ring hollow,
It didn’t have to be like this, and Hoyer knows it.
And if he doesn’t realize it now, Contreras will be sure to remind him every time he steps on the plate until 2027.