Chicago Cubs wide receiver Willson Contreras set for big payday
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Phillies wide receiver JT Realmuto understands better than almost anyone what awaits Willson Contreras in the offseason.
Barring a last-minute contract extension, the Chicago Cubs are expected to trade Contreras, an impending free agent, before the Aug. 2 deadline. He sets up the Cubs wide receiver to hit free agency in about three months.
As Realmuto entered his final year of officiating in 2020 with the Phillies, he made it clear that he wanted to push the free agent market forward with any deal he signed in the open market. In January 2021, Realmuto signed a five-year, $115.5 million contract two months before his 30th birthday.
Realmuto’s annual average value of $23.1 million set a new high for catchers. He also became the third receiver to sign a nine-figure contract, joining Joe Mauer and Buster Posey, and the third to earn an AAV over $21 million (Mauer and Yadier Molina).
“You always want to do your best to help the next generation of guys to come, and I was able to move the bar a bit,” Realmuto told the Tribune on Friday of his free agent deal. “Hopefully Willson continues to have a great season and can raise that bar for the guys who come behind him. Just something we’re proud of to continue watching over the next generation.
All of these contract markers lay the groundwork for what Contreras, who turns 31 in May, could be looking for in free agency this offseason.
Since Contreras made his debut on June 17, 2016, he is second among catchers in slugging percentage (.458), third in home runs (109), fourth in RBIs (345) and plate appearances (2,711) and sixth in on-base percentage (.351). His 114 OPS+ trail only Will Smith, Yasmani Grandal and Posey. Contreras also ranks third in the National League and sixth in MLB in innings caught during that span. Realmuto and Molina occupy the first two places.
Contreras’ solo home run in the fourth inning Friday, his 14th of the season, tied the game against the Phillies in the first game after the All-Star break.
“He took another step this year,” Realmuto said. “Offensively, he’s been as consistent as he can be as a receiver, so he’s been a lot of fun to watch. I’m interested to see how he ends the year and see where he goes next year.
Realmuto believes the perception of offensive catchers has changed with the addition of the designated hitter to the National League. The DH spot gives receivers more opportunities to maintain fresh legs while keeping their bat in alignment. Of Contreras’ 77 starts, 29 have come as a DH.
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“It’s a way for receivers to be paid more than in the past,” Realmuto said. “He’s going to stay fresh longer than most guys could just because he hasn’t grown from the age of 6. There’s a little less wear and tear on his knees and legs. legs.
Realmuto’s free agent situation last year will likely be different in one notable aspect. The Phillies didn’t trade him until he tested free agency, ultimately re-signing him three months into the 2020 season. During the shortened season, the Phillies were in the hunt for the playoffs and eventually finished a game out of the playoffs.
Looking back, Realmuto didn’t seem sure that being traded would have affected his chances or his desire to return to Philadelphia.
“As a player, if my team didn’t win and they were like, ‘Hey, we want to trade you to a team that’s competing so you can try for a chance to win this year, but we want to take you back’ during the off-season, “I would respect that,” Realmuto said. “I would appreciate them wanting to give me a shot at the playoffs and still love me enough to want to bring me back next year.”
In Contreras’ case, an impending trade likely spells the end of his career with the Cubs. An offseason reunion once Contreras assesses his free agent market seems unlikely. If the Cubs spend on a big contract, other big names will be available to fill the needs of the roster, including pitchers and shortstops.
Realmuto has some advice for Contreras when he officially becomes a free agent: stay patient.
“You feel like when you get there, you’re like, ‘Okay, here we are, free agency starts today. It’s going to be fast and wild,” and that’s not always the case,” Realmuto said. “It’s not happening as fast as you hoped. But once things start to move, things move fast. It’s everything you expect it to be. It just happens a little later than most guys expect.