Confirming what was rightly expected to be a foregone conclusion, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at Monday’s season-ending press conference that the team would “definitely” make an offer. qualification to receiver Willson Contreras (Twitter link via Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun-Times). This was widely assumed from when the team surprisingly opted not to trade Contreras before the August 2 deadline.
The exact amount of this year’s qualifying offer, which is set each year at the average of the game’s 125 highest-paid players, has yet to be determined. Last year’s qualifying bid was $18.4 million, and in 2020 it was set at $18.9 million.
Any player rejecting a qualifying offer is then subject to draft pick compensation, which means that a team choosing to sign him will have to give up at least one pick in the following year’s draft (in addition to potentially losing resources from its international bonus pool who receive revenue sharing would lose their third-highest pick to sign a “qualified” free agent paid the luxury tax this year – Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Padres — would lose their second and fifth picks as well as $1 million of international pool space between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 of next summer’s draft — typically in the No. 75 overall bracket.
The Cubs will still have the rest of this month and an exclusive five-day window to negotiate with Contreras after the World Series ends (as all teams do with their pending free agents). That said, Contreras, who turns 31 next May, has been expressing his desire to stay in Chicago for several years. No extension materialized.
In all likelihood, Contreras will arrive on the open market and sign with a new club – presumably a club looking for more attacking behind the plate. This is not to denigrate the Contreras glove; he boasts more arm strength and one of the fastest pop times in MLB (1.93 seconds, per Statcast, good for 11th of 83 receivers in 2022). Contreras, however, generally gets average to below-average marks for framing pitches, and Baseball Prospectus slightly knocked him out in 2022 for his work blocking pitches in the dirt (although that’s an anomaly and that generally rated higher than average in this regard).
Generally speaking, Contreras is far from a liability behind the plate, especially when it comes to controlling the running game. He doesn’t rank as well when it comes to stealing strikes for his pitchers (and making sure boundary strikes are called accurately), but he’s still a quality option behind the flat – especially if it is considered that few of his positional peers can match his work with the bat. Contreras hit .243/.349/.466 with 22 homers, 23 doubles and a pair of triples in 2022.
Contreras’ 132 wRC+, indicating he was 32% better than the league’s average hitter at plate, ranked fifth among 70 catchers who made at least 100 plate appearances in 2022, just behind Adley Rutschman (133) and Tyler Stephenson (134) for third on the list behind Contreras’ own brother William and Danny Jansen of Toronto. Given that the average catcher was 11% worse than the league average hitter, Contreras was about 43% better at home plate than the average backstop, by wRC+ measurement. The only catchers to produce more out-and-backs than Contreras were Cal Raleigh, Will Smith and Salvador Perez.
Precisely where Contreras lands in free agency, at this point, no one can guess. He won’t know how things play out until he gauges interest around the league, but there’s no shortage of teams that could be looking to level up behind the plate. Only seven teams – Braves, Jays, Phillies, A’s, Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners – have received an offense better than a league average hitter from the catcher position in their roster this season, so even with compensation of repechage attached, Contreras should command a solid multi-year contract.