WASHINGTON — Since catcher Willson Contreras signed out of Venezuela at 17 years old, the Chicago Cubs organization is all he has known.
After the Cubs dismantled their big league roster at the trade deadline and broke up the core that helped the franchise end a 107-year World Series title drought in 2016, Contreras is one of the team’s longest-tenured players. Only right-hander Kyle Hendricks, in his eighth big league season in Chicago, has spent more consecutive years in a Cubs uniform than Contreras, whose six seasons are tied with Jason Heyward.
Contreras, though, will be a free agent after the 2022 season. While president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has made clear he views the moves in the last week part of organizational retooling and not a rebuild, Contreras, 29, could find himself in a situation like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez at this time next year.
Contreras indicated Saturday that he would listen on a contract extension if the Cubs express interest.
“I’d love to stay here. I love Chicago. I love my city. I love the team,” Contreras said before Saturday. “This is the only team I’ve played for, and if they want to rebuild around me, I’m happy to talk.
“I‘m not thinking of getting moved or getting traded. I’m thinking of guiding these guys in the right way. I’m trying to be the leader. I’m going do my best, and I know that I assume the role of a leader. ... I’m just playing my baseball.”
The Cubs will be relying on Contreras, Hendricks and Heyward, already considered leaders before the trade-deadline fire sale, to further fill the void left by the departed players. Hendricks said what the Cubs’ departed star trio brought to the team as leaders is “completely irreplaceable so we have to kind of take a little different route.” Manager David Ross already has had conversations with Contreras and Heyward about that and plans to talk with Hendricks, too, after his start Saturday.
“Those guys have been around winning, have identified it, they understand what that takes,” Ross said Saturday. “And I also know that after (Friday) there’s kind of a moment to move forward and doing some things maybe a little bit differently that I’d like to implement as well. So there’s just a lot of stuff that moving forward we can all work together on to try to get back to that group that everybody’s used to seeing.”
After holding the Washington Nationals to one run over seven innings in a 6-3 win Saturday night, Hendricks said it’s going to take a while to process the trades. While it’s natural to think about what comes next, Hendricks doesn’t want to put all of his focus there.
“It’s unclear really to us exactly where we’re headed,” Hendricks said. “But I know it’s all going to be for the better in the end, so we just have to trust them.”
Hendricks, 31, is under contract through 2023 with a club option for 2024. He has been a steady force in the Cubs rotation since getting called up in 2014, featuring a career 3.18 ERA in 197 appearances (196 starts). As for whether he envisions himself anchoring the next contending Cubs team or is unsure about his future as the organization resets, Hendricks stated it’s a little bit of both.
“I mean, you never know where you’re going to be,” Hendricks said. “But myself, personally, I love Chicago so much and they’ve given me everything. So I obviously would love to be here and I would love to be a part of that. But again, you never know where your place is in their plans so my focus is just going out and enjoying the game that I love to play and enjoying the competition, enjoying all the guys in here.”
Contreras wants to be a player the Cubs lean on both on and off the field. His workload behind the plate certainly qualifies. Contreras’ 86 starts and 727 innings entering Saturday led all big-league catchers. He wants to be the bridge from the 2016 World Series-era Cubs and the next championship-caliber team. Contreras said he told his teammates Friday night that the next two months won’t be easy, but they need to try to have fun and learn from each other.
Contreras didn’t sound concerned with how long it could take the Cubs to get back to the postseason. He believes there is still a lot of talent on the team and anticipates the front office will acquire more in the offseason.
“I’m open to (an extension), my door’s always been open,” Contreras said. “Whenever they want to talk, I’ll be open with my agents. I’m just looking forward to keep playing baseball.”©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.