‘Wish him happiness’: Ex-Cub Willson Contreras will sign with NL Central rival Cardinals

Contreras reportedly agreed to a five-year, $87.5 million contract with St. Louis.

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Catcher Willson Contreras spent over 13 years in the Cubs organization.

Catcher Willson Contreras spent over 13 years in the Cubs organization.

Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP

SAN DIEGO — The serendipity is hard to ignore.

Former Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is headed to the Cardinals on a five-year, $87.5 million deal, according to multiple reports Wednesday. Four months ago, the Cubs were in St. Louis at the trade deadline, and when Contreras took the field to warm up post-deadline — still a Cub, against the odds — he was greeted by a round of applause.

“I wish him happiness,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “He gave us a lot of happiness, and I wish him the same.”

After spending over 13 years in the Cubs’ organization, Contreras is headed to their National League Central rival. And if the Cubs hope to compete for the division next year, they’ll have to go through Contreras and the Cardinals to get there.

“There’s only 29 other teams people can sign with; this is going to happen from time to time,” Hoyer said. “It doesn’t take away from what he did for the organization for a long time.”

Contreras’ last season with the Cubs was filled with emotional highs and lows. He hit his 100th career home run, making him the third Cubs catcher to hit triple digits. He earned his third All-Star selection, becoming the 10th player in franchise history to do so. He played against his brother, William, and with him, in the All-Star Game, for the first time in their careers.

All the while, Contreras’ contract situation hung in the background.

In his final year of club control, Contreras was expected to be traded at the deadline. He said goodbye to the fan base on what was presumed to be his last homestand with the team. Then the Cubs reportedly had a trade in place to send Contreras to the Astros, but Houston owner Jim Crane didn’t approve it. 

So Contreras emerged from the clubhouse in a Cubs uniform, giving the Cubs fans at Busch Stadium something to cheer about.

As the season progressed, Contreras’ frustrations with the club clearly built. He’d made his affinity for the team clear, but an extension looked less and less likely as his free agency approached. 

“I want to be somewhere that I’m wanted,” Contreras said in late September of his free-agency priorities, “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.”

The Cubs extended Contreras a qualifying offer, but he was never expected to take it. He valued the stability a long-term contract would provide. 

Contreras replaces Cardinals legend Yadier Molina, adding another wrinkle to the story. Before the 2018 season, what would become Contreras’ first All-Star year, he infamously talked about using the bar catchers such as Molina and Buster Posey set as a goal to surpass.

Now, as an established star, the baton passes to Contreras in St. Louis.

The Cubs are still in the market for a catcher to share playing time with Yan Gomes. General manager Carter Hawkins said they would be comfortable with PJ Higgins serving as Gomes’ backup.

“But at the same time, there’s some catchers out there on the [free-agent] market and on the trade market, as well,” Hawkins said. “So we will continue to engage those and compare that to our alternatives, both with our prospects and with our dollars.”

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