August 15, 2022

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Contreras staying focused in face of uncertainty

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PHOENIX — Willson Contreras is one of the last men standing from the Cubs’ 2016 World Series crown, along with right-hander Kyle Hendricks, outfielder Jason Heyward and manager David Ross, a catcher on the club that brought an end to the 108-year championship drought on the north side of Chicago.

That could change soon, as in before Aug. 2, this year’s Trade Deadline. With Contreras scheduled to hit free agency after this season and seemingly no contract extension on the horizon in Chicago, the 30-year-old catcher would seem to be a prime trade candidate for the Cubs this year, with the club sporting a record of 13-20 coming into Monday’s game at home vs. the Pirates.

None of this is new for Contreras, who has been the subject of trade rumors in recent years. For his part, Ross has been impressed with how the Venezuela-born backstop — now in his seventh big league season — has handled the situation, which also includes an arbitration hearing scheduled for June 9 to determine his salary for 2022 (he filed at $10.25 million, the club at $9 million).

“The main thing for me that I’ve seen with Willson is just a steady attitude this year, from when he came into Spring Training, to how he prepares to continue to try to help some of these guys along in their careers,” Ross said.

“Be a guy that’s been around here a long time, that guys can lean on. He’s having a great start for us. It doesn’t seem like any of those things [off the field] are affecting him or his attitude on a daily basis.”

That “great start” by Contreras has been a bright spot for the Cubs in the first month and a half of the season. Despite going hitless in nine at-bats in the Cubs’ series against the D-backs this weekend in Phoenix, he’s hitting .277/.397/.475 with a 150 OPS+ in 121 plate appearances this year, including .333/.476/.576 in May. He’s also registered his best career numbers thus far in strikeout rate (19.0%), walk rate (11.6%) and hard-hit rate (60.3%).

Contreras has hit .409/.480/.773 in 25 plate appearances as a designated hitter, which would seem to further his trade value with the universal DH now.

Of course, Contreras saw similar situations up close last year with longtime teammates Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, all of whom were traded during the 2021 campaign as part of the Cubs’ rebuilding process.

Contreras has said in the recent past that the lessons from witnessing last year’s Deadline have not been lost on him.

“I think he learned a lot and has guys around him that he’s been a part of, that can actually help him if he needs to call anybody,” Ross said. “But he’s doing a phenomenal job of just being himself every single day.”

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