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Willson Contreras trade from Cubs doesn’t happen: What now?

Willson Contreras trade from Cubs doesn’t happen: What now?
Despite expectations that he would be moved, Chicago Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras was not traded before the MLB Trade Deadline on Thursday. (Credit: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

CHICAGO (BVM) – Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trade deadline was one of the moves that didn’t happen. It was widely speculated that the Chicago Cubs would trade their All-Star catcher Willson Contreras before the MLB trade deadline on Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. EST. That trade never occurred as the Cubs kept Contreras despite the fact he is on the last year of his deal.

Contreras signed a 1-year, $9.62 million contract in June to avoid arbitration between him and the organization, but that only allows him to stay on until the end of the 2022 season when he will become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year. The two sides have been said to not be close on a long-term extension for the All-Star which led to speculation that he would be dealt on Thursday, but that never came to fruition. 

Willson Contreras final home stand Chicago Cubs
Contreras was emotional during what was expected to be his last home game at Wrigley Field, but a deal for the All-Star catcher never occurred. (Credit: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

Now, this puts the two sides at an interesting crossroads. After weeks of speculation, it appeared that Contreras and potentially fellow teammate and All-Star Ian Happ were on the way out, with the two seen hugging each other in the Cubs’ dugout after the final game of the team’s most recent homestand. Neither player was moved with the Cubs, instead trading only a trio of relief pitchers in closer David Robertson and set-up arms Mychel Givens and Scott Effross. 

For Contreras and the Cubs, there is still a chance the catcher could continue his career in the Cubbie Blue. The first possibility is the two sides come to an agreement on a long-term deal. The two sides have been discussing this possibility, but that seemed mostly out of the question by the trade deadline.

Another option is the Cubs extending Contreras what is known as a qualifying offer. The qualifying offer, according to the MLB and MLBPA 2022-2026 collective bargaining agreement, allows clubs wishing to receive compensatory draft picks for the loss of a free agent to make a one-year “qualifying offer,” worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players, to their impending free agents prior to the onset of free agency only if:

  1. That player has never received a qualifying offer previously in his career.
  2. That player spent the entire season on that team’s roster (in-season acquisitions are ineligible).

At this point, Contreras has met both requirements as it is his first time ever being allowed to possibly enter free agency following his call up to Chicago in 2016. With no trade being made, the expectation is that the star catcher will remain on the Cubs roster the rest of the season as they would likely plan to use the highly-talented player rather than send him down.

Of course, the caveat of the offer is that the decision is still Contreras’ to make on if he accepts it or not. According to the collective bargaining agreement, a player will have 10 days to accept or decline the qualifying offer, during which time they can negotiate with other teams to survey their market value. Should the player decide to accept the qualifying offer, he is signed for the following year at that predetermined rate. If the player rejects the qualifying offer, he is free to further explore the free agent market.

The Cubs do not have to extend a qualifying offer to Contreras, but considering he will be coming off of a third All-Star appearance and the Cubs could be compensated if he signs to another team, that is a benefit they certainly wouldn’t turn down. According to the bargaining agreement, if a team gives a qualifying offer to a player who then signs elsewhere, the club that lost the player is eligible for draft pick compensation if the lost player signs for at least $50 million — will be awarded a pick between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A of the 2023 MLB Draft. If the player signs for less than $50 million, the compensation pick for those teams would come after Competitive Balance Round B, which follows the second round.

Contreras’ saga will be an interesting one to observe over the course of the season as well as the early days of the offseason as he looks to either get paid big money from another team or accept a contract, either an extension or qualifying offer, from the team that has held his rights since he was a teenager. Given the fact the Cubs are currently in a rebuild, whichever decision Contreras makes will likely be a welcomed one either through draft picks to help the team build even more in the future or by retaining one of the league’s top catchers. He is currently hitting .252 with 14 home runs and 38 RBIs.

For Cubs fans, the trade deadline may not have been as active for the team as they first thought, but it’s fair to say that many are likely happy to be able to see their All-Star catcher stay on the North Side. With less than two months left in the season, Contreras will look to pick up his play even more to help his odds of landing a big deal in the offseason either from the Cubbies or not.

Willson Contreras Chicago Cubs fans say thank you
Cubs fans who expected to see Contreras get moved by the trade deadline, will be happy to see him still rep the team at least for the remainder of the season. (Credit: David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

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