CHICAGO — No one has caught more of Kyle Hendricks’ career pitches than Willson Contreras. For seven years, they have formed a strong bond with the Cubs, adding another layer to the growing likelihood that the catcher is dealt before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.
“What he’s done for myself, I can’t even put words to it,” Hendricks said this past weekend. “How well we know each other now, there’s like this unspoken language. We can just look at each other now. So it’s just something so special I’ve never had with any other catcher in my career. He’s definitely one of my favorite teammates ever.”
As the 5 pm CT Deadline approaches, and the Cubs continue to field calls and package scenarios involving Contreras, here is a look at three positive trends and three negative developments surrounding Chicago’s high-energy, All-Star catcher.
1. Contreras’ offense at catcher
One of the biggest selling points for Contreras is the fact that his offensive profile looks especially good in comparison to his positional peers. And while his hard-hit numbers have tapered over the past few weeks, Contreras still headed into Monday in the 89th percentile in hard-hit rate (47.2 percent) and 98th percentile in maximum exit velocity (116.2 mph), per Statcast. He has 14 homers, a 132 wRC+ (32 percent above MLB average with an .818 OPS.
“Willson’s been the Willson that everybody kind of anticipated him being,” Cubs backup catcher Yan Gomez said. “He’s a perennial All-Star.”
2. Clarity should offer an emotional boost
Contreras wears his emotions on his sleeve and that includes bringing the type of intensity that can rally teammates and, in turn, get under the skin of opposing teams. Given the ups and downs that have come with the distraction-filled past few months, Contreras may feel a real sense of relief when the Deadline is past and he can pour his energy into a postseason run.
“It definitely sucks to lose a guy like Willson,” Cubs starter Marcus Stroman said. “[He’s] a guy who comes up each and every day and competes to the absolute maximum. It’s hard to find that.”
3. Contreras has embraced mentorship
In years past, Contreras was viewed mostly as a source of energy with his drive, competitive fire and work ethic. This season, following trades that sent previous core stars to new clubs, Contreras has tried to step up behind the scenes as more of a vocal leader, as well as a mentor for Chicago’s younger players. That is another positive for inquiring teams to consider.
1. Contreras has slumped of late
As much as Contreras has kept his focus through all the outside noise this year, there is no doubt that the last month has worn on him. Look no further than his offensive production, which has tailed off as the trade rumors and emotional moments have increased. His season OPS was .949 on June 14 (his highest point from May-July). He posted a .638 OPS in the next 34 games, including a .149/.259/.230 slash line in July.
“I think, mentally, he’s wondering what’s going on, which I don’t blame him,” Ross said. “I mean, we’ve seen it. He’s an emotional player in a big way. We’ve seen a lot of things that are important to him and he’s had to deal with. I would think that would affect anybody.”
2. There are questions about Contreras defense
Contreras has come a long way from early-career criticism over his framing. He put in work to become a plus framer in 2020, but has seen a drop-off the past two years. While Statcast credits him with one Framing Run this year, Fangraphs (-3.5) and Baseball Prospectus (-2.5) have him below average. He is roughly around league average in terms of blocking and arm metrics. With the DH available in both leagues, teams could better ease Contreras in with their staff.
“Having a lot of new guys in the last two years, it probably helps,” Contreras said of potentially needing to learn a new staff on the fly. “Hopefully, it keeps helping me along my career. I care, man. I care. I care a lot about my pitchers. I care a lot about the game calling. I care a lot about making the team better.”
3. Contreras is likely only a rental
As much as Contreras can help a contending team down the stretch, the reality is that the catcher is poised for free agency. During Spring Training, Contreras described hitting the open market as a potential “dream come true” for him. So, as teams weigh the type of trade package the Cubs are seeking, they must also factor in the fact that the All-Star is likely headed elsewhere over the offseason.