As Willson Contreras heads to arbitration — with no long-term extension in sight — the Chicago Cubs catcher seems at peace

·3 min read

Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras appeared in good spirits Wednesday.

He has learned over the last four years how to deal with off-the-field stuff. Contreras remembers hearing his name come up in trade rumors in 2019 and felt distracted by the chatter and uncertainty. Similar speculation carried into the next two seasons, and he learned to take a “whatever happens, happens” approach.

“Now I’m good with it,” Contreras said. “When you hear trade rumors because you’re doing something good on the field, another team might want (you). And I understand that the Chicago Cubs are in a rebuild right now. If they can get good packages, they’re going to do whatever they do best for the team.”

So when Contreras and the Cubs could not agree Tuesday on his salary for 2022 — his final year of arbitration — he sounded at peace with what might follow in the coming months. An arbitration hearing will settle whether he receives the $10.25 million he filed for or the Cubs’ $9 million figure.

“I’m happy to be here,” Contreras said. “I’m looking forward to playing baseball. And that’s one thing that I can control.”

Contreras said when he arrived at camp that he wasn’t interested in talking to the Cubs about a contract extension once the season began. Fifteen days before opening day, that stance had not softened.

Contreras said there wouldn’t be time for those type of negotiations in season. Asked if he ever has felt close to getting a long-term deal done with the Cubs, Contreras replied, “No, not really.”

“I‘m not focused on getting an extension, I’m not focused on the arbitration case,” Contreras said. “I’m focused on winning, I’m focused on competing on the field with my teammates and I’m focused on being the best that I can be for them.”

Manager David Ross is confident Contreras’ contract situation won’t be a distraction.

“Willson’s in a good headspace,” Ross said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen him in such a good place since I’ve been here. He seems eager to lead, to set an example.

“He understands he’s going to make a lot of money either way. The details get worked out. His job’s just to go play. Can’t control any of those extra factors.”

Given how the Cubs handled the trade deadline last year with stars in their final season before free agency — trading away Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — it shouldn’t be a surprise if they use the same strategy again.

“You appreciate what you have while you have it,” Ross said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead any of that stuff. For me, it’s about appreciating the All-Stars that you have and the guys that have real talent.

“He carries a lot of the reputation and some of the things that we’ve established here, so that’s important.”

Contreras’ attention is centered more on getting to know the new pitchers and working to be on the same page than on what uniform he might be wearing in five months. He caught Marcus Stroman in a game for the first time Wednesday.

Afterward, Stroman spoke highly of Contreras, who had caught some of the right-hander’s bullpen sessions. Regular communication is part of the process.

“It’s all about developing a feel for each other,” Stroman said. “And the only way to do that is by getting out on the field and actually doing it. Two weeks until the season, and we’ll try to do as much as we can in that time.”