Willson Contreras rejects Cubs’ qualifying offer, so what’s next?

Tuesday was the deadline to accept qualifying offers.

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The Cubs’ Willson Contreras celebrates his two-run home run off San Diego Padres starting pitcher Sean Manaea on June 14 at Wrigley Field.

As expected, Willson Contreras turned down the Cubs’ qualifying offer.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Catcher Willson Contreras’ roller coaster of a final season under club control with the Cubs culminated with a qualifying-offer decision Tuesday.

The three-time All-Star catcher went from saying goodbye to Wrigley Field before the trade deadline to almost being traded to the Astros to returning for the final two months to the team that signed him out of Venezuela in 2009.

As expected, Contreras turned down the Cubs’ qualifying offer (one year, $19.65 million). He’s expected to seek a longer-term contract in free agency.

When asked a couple of months ago what his priorities will be in free agency, Contreras said: ‘‘I want to be somewhere that I’m wanted and to feel like they’re going to appreciate what I can do on the field and off the field. A place that appreciates what I bring to the clubhouse and what I can do.’’

It’s too early to rule out anything, but the Cubs are far from the favorites to land Contreras in free agency. So they’ll have to turn their attention to bolstering the position.

‘‘It’s a two-way position,’’ president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last week during the general managers meetings. ‘‘You obviously want guys that can hit, but it’s a run-prevention position.’’

Veteran Yan Gomes made a strong impression in the first season of his two-year contract, praised by teammates and coaches for his game-calling and quick rapport with the pitching staff. The Cubs also started homegrown catcher and first baseman P.J. Higgins for 24 games behind the plate last season.

Catching prospect Miguel Amaya’s path to the majors has been a winding one because of injuries. He was out for much of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, then missed the Arizona Fall League with a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot. But vice president of player development Jared Banner said last week that Amaya is on track to be fully cleared for spring training.

The Cubs saw how important depth at catcher can be when they went through eight backups behind Contreras in 2021.

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