Earlier this month, we talked about Willson Contreras’ upcoming free agency and, specifically, what will happen when the Chicago Cubs make him a Qualifying Offer.
It might seem a pretty straight forward issue – the Cubs extend the one-year, $19-ish million deal, Contreras rejects it, and then the Cubs get a draft pick if he signs elsewhere this offseason – and it may in fact play out that way. But as we discussed at length, the market has sent some signals that, when attached to draft pick compensation (ie, after he rejects a Qualifying Offer, Contreras will cost his signing team draft pick(s) and IFA bonus pool money), Contreras’s market may not be as robust as he hopes.
And if anyone is able to project that kind of thinking now, then Contreras’s agent will know in advance that, once that Qualifying Offer comes, he’ll have only a week to find out – as well as possible – what the multi-year market is going to look like for his client. If the agent is not getting good signals back, then it might be financially advisable to accept the one-year deal with the Cubs.
Again, we won’t get TOO in the weeds on this stuff until the offseason actually arrives, but that’s the short version for now: yes, there’s a chance that it may wind up making financial sense for Contreras to accept the Qualifying Offer from the Cubs. (Query whether knowing he would accept it would, in return, prevent the Cubs from making it in the first place… no, right? They would love to have him back on a one-year, $19 million deal, even if they told him his role would be reduced as a catcher, right? Am I missing something? That’s just good value.)
So, then, against that backdrop, it only makes sense that upon his return to the active roster after missing a month with the ankle injury, Contreras was asked, among other things, about his coming free agency.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it, my free agency, and I know what I want for sure,” Contreras told reporters, including The Athletic. “At the same time, I don’t control the market. The market will speak for itself and we’re going to adjust to it and see what happens. But I know what I want, (which is feeling that I’m wanted). I want to be somewhere that I’m wanted. (Where) I feel like they’re going to appreciate what I do on the field and off the field. A place (where) they appreciate what I bring to the clubhouse and what I can do.”
I don’t think that’s a shot at the Cubs, by the way. It’s just a reality for Contreras: he wants to be where he’s wanted and appreciated. Hey, don’t we all? Even if we suspect the Cubs are ready to move on to a different catching setup next year, I will never entirely rule out the (increasingly slim) chance that the sides decide in free agency that a multi-year deal is the best for both parties. .
But what about the Qualifying Offer from the Cubs? What happens then?
“I won’t be offended (if they give me a qualifying offer) because it’s part of the business,” Contreras said, again per The Athletic. “That’s probably the reason my price at the deadline was really high because by making the qualifying offer they can get a pick. I already talked to my agent and we’re going to think about that… At this point, I’m not going to give you an answer (about whether I would accept it). I’m going to wait and see what’s next. But we have to consider it.
It’s not a telling answer, but it is the correct one. Options open. Flexibility. Consider all things.
Contreras and his agent have to be open to all informational inputs, and move as thoughtfully through the market as possible. If he says that he would definitely accept a Qualifying Offer – in an attempt, for example, to get the Cubs not to offer it? – then what does that communicate to the market about how low he’s valuing himself? And if he says he definitely would not accept a Qualifying Offer, maybe that inadvertently sends an overly aggressive message to the market, and hurts him in the other direction? Or maybe he winds up later wanting to accept the Qualifying Offer, and then it just looks really bad and awkward to come back for another year with the Cubs?
There’s no reason for Contreras to say anything else at the moment. Then, when the World Series ends and it’s time to start making these decisions for real, we’ll learn more about how the market sees Contreras, how Contreras sees himself, and how the Cubs see their future with or without him.