Catcher Willson Contreras will reject the Cubs’ qualifying offer and instead test the open market this winter, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers tweets. The Cubs, who surprisingly did not trade Contreras at the deadline — a deal sending him to Houston was reportedly nixed by Astros ownership — made the easy call to instead make the one-year, $19.65MM qualifying offer to their longtime catcher. Contreras always appeared overwhelmingly likely to decline the offer. He’ll now seek a multi-year deal in free agency.
The 30-year-old Contreras will head into free agency on the heels of his fourth career season of 20-plus homers and 20-plus doubles. The three-time All-Star and 2016 World Series champion slashed .243/.346/.466 in what seems likely to be his final season as a member of the Cubs. Chicago had multiple opportunities to extend Contreras over the years, with the player himself publicly expressing his desire to stay along the way. It never appeared that the team made a strong effort to sign Contreras for the long haul, however, and with veteran Yan Gomes signed through 2023, the Cubs have at least one alternative option (though there’s a good chance they add another via free agency or trade).
Contreras’ defense has become something of a talking point going back to the trade deadline, though some of that talk is perhaps overblown. It’s generally rare for starting catchers to change hands at the deadline, as learning an entirely new staff on the fly and in the middle of a postseason push is a difficult task for any backstop. That concern, of course, won’t exist with a free-agent signing, as Contreras will have an entire offseason and Spring Training to familiarize himself with a new team’s staff.
In terms of actual defensive metrics, Contreras boasts a 30% caught-stealing rate that’s comfortably above league average and is regarded as having one of the best throwing arms of any catcher in the game. Statcast credits him for the 11th-best poptime of any catcher in baseball and also feels that his framing has been average or slightly above over the past three seasons. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at -1 in 2022 but credited him with a +8 mark just one year prior. It’s fair to say that Contreras isn’t an elite defensive backstop, and over the course of a multi-year deal that stretches into his mid-30s, he may spend additional time at DH or another position, such as first base. None of that means he’s a defensive liability in the short term, however.
Because Contreras rejected a QO, any team that signs him will have to forfeit at least one draft pick. Luxury-paying clubs will forfeit their second- and fifth-highest selections in next year’s draft and will see their international bonus pool reduced by $1MM. Teams that were neither luxury tax payors nor revenue-sharing recipients will surrender their second-highest pick and see their international pool reduced by $500K. Revenue-sharing recipients would “only” have to surrender their third-highest pick. The Cubs, as a team that neither paid the luxury tax nor received revenue sharing, would receive a compensatory pick between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 in next year’s draft (typically in the No. 75 overall range).