The Cubs and catcher Willson Contreras have avoided arbitration, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPN (Twitter link). The sides came to terms on a $9.625MM salary, agreeing to the exact midpoint between their respective $10.25MM and $9MM filing figures.
The agreement doesn’t have any long-term contractual ramifications, but they’ll avoid the hassle and any potential acrimony of going through a hearing — which had been scheduled for today. This is the final trip through the arb process for Contreras, who is scheduled to reach free agency for the first time at the end of the season.
The 30-year-old looks like the clear top option among a deep catching class, and he’s continued to improve his stock with an incredible first couple months of the season. Contreras owns a .277/.403/.530 line with ten home runs through 201 plate appearances, sporting career-best marks in both walk (11.9%) and strikeout (19.9%) rate in the process. He leads catchers (minimum 100 trips to the plate) in wRC+ with a 162 mark that indicates he’s been 62 percentage points better than the average batter thus far.
Not only is that hot start setting up a likely lucrative free agent payday, it also makes him one of the most interesting players to follow over the next six-to-eight weeks. The Cubs are ten games below .500 and a virtual lock to miss the postseason, making Contreras one of the game’s bigger potential deadline trade chips. Last month, he told Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago he’d not heard any extension overtures from the front office. That’d seem to point towards a trade being the likelier outcome, although the career-long Cub has consistently maintained he’d be open to in-season discussions if the front office initiates talks.
The agreement closes the books on a light arbitration class for the North Siders. Outfielder Ian Happ was the only other arbitration-eligible player on the roster, and he and the organization agreed to a $6.85MM salary during Spring Training. Happ, himself a possible midseason trade candidate, will go through the process once more before reaching free agency after the 2023 campaign.