CHICAGO – Willson Contreras' goodbye turned out to be a bit premature.
The Chicago Cubs are keeping their catcher — along with Ian Happ — at least for now after Tuesday's trade deadline passed with no deal for the three-time All-Star.
“I do understand the emotional toll that it takes when you’re waiting on a phone call and reading rumors,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “I know that would be difficult for me if I was that in that situation. I do really understand the human toll that that takes on guys.”
With the Cubs rebuilding and free agency looming, Contreras seemed sure to be traded. Fellow All-Star Happ also appeared a good bet to be dealt.
"We never found that a deal that came close to the right value," Hoyer said.
He would not say if the Cubs will try to re-sign Contreras and build around him after the season. But the past couple weeks sure felt like one big goodbye.
Contreras got a standing ovation in what many thought would be his final home game at Wrigley Field against Pittsburgh on July 26. Teammates hugged him following Sunday’s 4-0 loss at San Francisco, thinking that might have been his last game for the Cubs.
“I’ve always had a really high opinion of how hard he plays,” Hoyer said. "And I feel like there’s no one that cares more than he does. He has an energy that is infectious and he’s a really talented catcher. I don’t think our opinion is changed at all.”
Contreras helped Chicago win the World Series and end a 108-year championship drought as a rookie in 2016.
“I’ve always had a high opinion about how hard he plays,” Hoyer said. “He’s a really talented catcher.”
This year, he got selected to his third All-Star team. Making it even sweeter, Willson and William Contreras of the Atlanta Braves also became the fifth set of brothers to start together in a Midsummer Classic and the first since Roberto and Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1992.
But the trade talk took a toll.
The 30-year-old Contreras was hitting .252 with 14 home runs, 38 RBIs and an .818 OPS prior to Tuesday's game at St. Louis. He slumped badly in July with a .149 average, one homer and four RBIs in 19 games, and acknowledged the trade deadline was weighing on him.
Happ is arbitration-controlled through the 2023 season, then he can become a free agent.
The 27-year-old has been versatile this season, starting games in left field, center field and designated hitter. He also has experience playing right field, first base, second base and third base. Entering Tuesday, Happ was hitting .279 with nine homers, 46 RBIs and a .796 OPS.
In the locker room before Chicago's game Tuesday against the Cardinals, both players’ uniforms hung by their lockers. Contreras made a brief stop in the room about 2 1/2 hours before the deadline and said he didn’t know anything about his situation. His lone comment: “I’m waiting, too.”
That wait is over. He and Happ will continue to call Wrigley Field home and wear Cub uniforms through the end of this season. They will return to Wrigley Field on Friday to play the Miami Marlins.
Contreras is one of three players remaining from the championship team along with pitcher Kyle Hendricks and outfielder Jason Heyward. The Cubs traded stars Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez prior to last season’s deadline.
“Last year at the deadline things lined up for us where we had really motivated buyers at the right times,” Hoyer said. "I think this year in some ways makes me realize how fortunate we were last year from a prospect standpoint to be able to accomplish what we did.”
Freelancer Warren Mayes contributed from St. Louis.
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