Willson Contreras, SS markets and other items on Cubs to-do list

Contreras on Jed Hoyer's big to-do list at GM meetings originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAS VEGAS — If anyone doubted that the offseason has begun while clubbies are still cleaning up wet corks in Houston, Carlos Correa, Anthony Rizzo, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Rodon and Jacob deGrom have already been added to a star-studded list of free agents after opting out of their contracts in the last 24 hours.

In fact. by Sunday night front office representatives from most teams already were on the ground at the Conrad hotel and resort in Las Vegas, ahead of this week’s annual general manager’s meetings.

Among the teams with the most work to do as free agency kicks off are the Cubs, who have significant questions and holes involving the starting rotation, first base, catching, center field, left-handed slugging and the bullpen.

Other than that, what’s left of their 74-88 roster looks pretty OK.

While signings and trades this early are rare, important questions and tasks will start to get addressed this week by team president Jed Hoyer and his staff.

Among the first orders of business:

The Final Goodbye

Willson Contreras has been through an emotional wringer this year like few departing players before him, publicly, tearfully addressing cheering fans in both his final home game before the trade deadline and his final home game of the season (two months after a reported deal with the Astros fell through and he wound up not being traded in one of the most shocking non-trades of the summer).

Thursday afternoon is the deadline for clubs to tender the qualifying offers to free agents that Hoyer said the Cubs will make to Contreras. Although a narrow window of possibility remains that Contreras might accept the $19.65 million offer sometime during the 10 days he has to consider it, the three-time All-Star starter, who is said to be more hurt than angry that the Cubs haven’t offered a multiyear extension, is the top-hitting catcher on the market and expected to decline the QO.

The Other Goodbye

The Cubs are expected to make official the release of Gold Glove veteran outfielder Jason Heyward with a year and $23 million remaining on the largest contract in franchise history as they start to settle their roster ahead of next week’s non-tender deadline.

For those scoring at home, that leaves one man — Kyle Hendricks — standing from the 2016 World Series-winning roster that inspired easy and widespread talk in the game of dynasties.

Also, if you’re scoring: the Astros have been to four World Series, winning two, since then; the Dodgers have been to three and won one since.


Roster Crunching

Did we mention the non-tender deadline? That’s Nov. 18.

Just as important, if not more so for the Cubs, is the Nov. 15 deadline for adding prospects to the 40-man roster who might otherwise be eligible for the Dec. 7 Rule 5 draft.

The 40-man roster decisions for the Cubs and many other teams as they maneuver to protect prospects is more challenging this year than most because of the cancelation of last year’s Rule 5 draft due to MLB’s labor lockout and the resulting carryover effect of players who might have been eligible for that draft.

Hoyer has called this year’s Cubs crunch the most challenging he’s seen in two decades as an executive, exacerbated by 60-day injured list players who must be reinstated (including Hendricks and Codi Heuer) and trades for Rule 5-eligible prospects such as starting pitchers Hayden Wesneski (already added to the 40-man when called up in September) and Ben Brown (acquired from the Phillies for David Robertson).

Laying groundwork

Did we mention Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Rodon and all those holes to fill heading into a 2023 season in which Hoyer says, “We absolutely want to compete”?

Plenty of player agents also are on the ground this week at the Conrad, offering early substantive opportunities to feel out markets.

Did we mention Anthony Rizzo and Jacob deGrom?

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