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The Cubs Have A Brutal Decision Coming With Willson Contreras

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Hopefully you're enjoying playoff baseball and the World Series. Such a brutally long season that it's very easy to lose sight of how entertaining this sport can be. For all intents and purposes it would appear this postseason has been a moderate success and that's a good thing. The world is a better place when people have a good relationship with baseball. I mean that literally. Map the performance of the US economy overlaid with public approval rating for Major League Baseball and you'll get enough correlation.

While everyone's having fun though the Cubs are hard at work on rebuilding the organization with two major hires in the last week alone: Carter Hawkins as GM and Ehsan Bokhari as his #2. I talked more in-depth on Red Line yesterday about what these two guys bring to the table. But higher level for now it gives the front office two high profile brains in their respective areas. Hawkins on the process side of things and Bokhari on the analytics. Not a pure right-brain/left-brain combination but about as close as you can get given the profession. Credit to Jed for getting this ironed out before the dust settles on 2021. The sooner you figure out the front office, the quicker you can get to working on the critical roster issues that surround the Cubs. That's a logical next step, and at the top of the list is what to do with Willson Contreras: 

The Athletic - … But there’s also the question of whether Contreras will even be on this team in 2022. If an extension can’t be reached, Hoyer will almost certainly shop him. 

If a deal can’t be consummated and Hoyer starts looking to move Contreras, the optics would be terrible. Trading their two-time All-Star starting catcher this offseason would send a bad message to fans eager for winning to return to the North Side. Hoyer has been clear that a long rebuild isn’t in the works and that full-on tanking is no longer effective. He could stand by that sentiment firmly if he extends Contreras.

This is a massive signal about where the Cubs see the rebuild heading. Do you commit to Contreras heading into his age-30 season? Is he willing to take a discount to stay in Chicago? Is he the guy we want to build around for the next wave or move him when the time is right? Let's talk about it. 

1. You generally don't trade big name catchers midseason because that can disrupt the pitching staff of the acquiring team. It's better to give everyone a spring training and full season to work together. Not saying it's impossible but the value is much higher in the winter because you want that catcher for the full season. 

2. The Cubs have been tough on extensions, obviously. They passed on Kris Bryant and Javy Baez for long-term contracts while Rizzo got about $30M less offered than he expected. Right or wrong, the fact remains that the Cubs and their players have been far apart historically. Kyle Hendricks is the exception. So we can easily boil it down to whether or not Contreras is in the Hendricks camp or the Baez camp. I would guess the latter because he has a chance to get paid in free agency very well. Realmuto (who is much better) makes almost $24M a year. I can't see Contreras getting less than $15M and idk if the Cubs want to commit that when the remaining best years will wasted on 80-win seasons. 

3. Even so, Contreras has built a pretty identifiable pattern of when he's at his best. The sweetspot is about 110 starts a year and he plays to an AS caliber level. More than that just doesn't fit his style. You can't ride him 145 times a season and get the same value at the plate. That's where he differentiates himself. I don't know how much this factors into his negotiations but the Cubs could have some leverage with their relationship. It's different with the catchers. They know his workload and then mix in David Ross. There's some natural internal things working in the Cubs' favor to get an extension. 

4. There's going to be a notable transition on the Cubs pitching staff the next two seasons. I don't mean the starters. I mean everyone that pitches for the Cubs. That's in the recipe and I don't know if Contreras will be the guy Hoyer wants shepherding wholesale changes across the staff. Maybe? I feel like that would be a known thing at this point. They wouldn't be pussy footing. He would be extended and would be a huge factor in the next steps. 

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5. All signs point to a trade this winter. That's my interpretation. Willson has always been undervalued and I don't think now the Cubs are going to do a 180 and open up the checkbook and make him a career Cub. It works against everything we've seen from them and it's strongly against the grain of common sense in baseball. Aging catchers on noncompetitive teams usually end up somewhere else. I would be very surprised if this ended up any different but then again this whole thing has been shocking to me for years now. Who knows what they do. 

More this week on Red Line Radio if you're into things like offseason baseball strategy: 

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