Willson Contreras 'nostalgic' as Cubs career reaches likely end

Contreras 'nostalgic' after Cubs career reaches likely end originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

CINCINNATI — He said his final goodbyes to fans at Wrigley Field twice in two months, enjoyed an All-Star Game with his brother in the same National League lineup, hit his 100th career home run in May and his 117th in his final game he played this season on Tuesday.

And when a fly ball to center was squeezed for the final out of the Cubs’ 2022 season, the larger finality began to hit Willson Contreras.

“It’s a little weird for me,” the Cubs’ three-time All-Star catcher said. “This is the first time that basically I don’t have a team since 2008.”

The longest tenured player in the organization, Contreras has been with the organization since Lou Piniella as the Cubs manager — and 2 1/2 years longer than Jed Hoyer, the team president whose team-rebuilding decisions over the past 20 months have led Contreras to the doorstep of free agency without a whisper of extension talks.

“This is a spot that I wanted to be since I was a kid, and I did everything I could to reach free agency,” Contreras said. “So it makes me proud.

“At the same time it makes me a little nostalgic to leave my team. But everything happens for a reason, and I’m ready for whatever comes next.”

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Contreras got Wednesday off to soak up what was likely was his final day in a Cubs uniform, his final season numbers he’ll take to market including 22 home runs, a .349 on-base percentage, .815 OPS and a 3.96 staff ERA when he caught a pitching staff in transition, with a steady flow of rookies taking the mound throughout the year.

Contreras, who wondered if the Cubs might ultimately want to keep him long-term when they failed to trade him after shopping him for months before the deadline, doesn’t know what’s next on the business side beyond a sit-down with his agent he expects to have at the end of the month.

“It’s been a long year, and I’m going to just go home, relax, reflect about this year, what I could have done better and what I want to improve for next year,” he said. “And then once free agency starts we see what happens. But my main focus right now is just to go back home with family and have a good time.”

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Assuming this is it as a Cub for Contreras, his departure (and that of Jason Heyward in the coming days) will leave just Kyle Hendricks with the club six years after one of the youngest World Series winners in history won the franchise’s first championship in 108 years. And Hendricks finished the season with a shoulder injury he still has to prove he can rebound from next year.

Kyle Schwarber, the former Cubs slugger and this year’s NL home run champ with the Phillies, said last week he he was “shocked” that at least one or two from the homegrown World Series core isn’t still around.

Contreras can only guess why he wasn’t asked to have that conversation with the front office in recent years.

“Maybe they’re trying to create another World Series team with nobody from the last World Series team,” he offered. “It could be a lot of factors. I don’t know.”

What he does know, he said Wednesday, is that he did everything he could to stay with the team and help it win every year he wore the uniform — taking particular pride in starting five World Series games as a rookie in 2016.

“Winning the World Series is something I will have forever with me,” he said. “I’m in the books in Chicago Cubs history. And this is a team that you always want to come back, because it’s special.”

If this is it as a Cub, Contreras departs as the first three-time All-Star starter for the Cubs since Sammy Sosa — the club’s only three-time All-Star catcher besides Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett.

He was part of the only four-year run of consecutive postseason appearances for the Cubs (on three of those teams) — which was part of a six-year run of winning seasons that included five playoff appearances.

“Time will tell where I’m going to end up,” he said. “But it’s something that makes me proud that I did everything I could for this team.”

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