Cubs’ Willson Contreras ‘calm’ as he awaits team referee shots – NBC Chicago

‘Nothing is going to surprise’ Contreras at the June arbitration hearing originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

To beat first baseman Leon Durham in refereeing in 1985, the Cubs included his infamous Game 5 playoff error in their presentation, insinuating he cost them the pennant and prompting an angry response from the Durham agent at the hearing for the underhanded tactic.

“I thought it was the worst thing they could have done,” Durham said after losing the case.

A few years later, Milwaukee third baseman Jim Gantner listened to the Brewers tear it up as he sat in silence during the hearing, then confronted Brewers general manager Harry Dalton: “If you feel this for me, why don’t you trade me?”

Fast forward to 2022, when on June 9, two-time All-Star wide receiver Willson Contreras plans to wear a suit and tie to his audition and quietly listen to whatever the Cubs might say to disparage his abilities as a baseball player and slander his worth — or worse — to save perhaps $600,000 on an already mediocre payroll in 2022.

Contreras — whose value as a two-way player was on full display Wednesday in Pittsburgh — thinks he knows what to expect from a process he’s never been through.

“There’s nothing that’s going to surprise me, trust me,” he said of the negative case the Cubs will make against him in a chat with NBC Sports Chicago. “I’ve been through a lot of [criticism] since I was in the minor leagues, and everything they have to say, I’ve heard it before. That does not bother me.

Maybe he’s right. And that will almost certainly be the key to his season — if not his value as a free agent at the end of the year.

Because even if the Cubs don’t get particularly ugly with Contreras — like they did a generation ago with another two-time All-Star who helped them reach the playoffs — arbitration hearings don’t are never pretty.

These are often processes that change relationships.

And Contreras knows as well as anyone else what that suggests the Cubs are willing to take him to a hearing on a relatively small gap in deposit numbers ($10.25 million and $9 million). dollars) which has not been discussed since the figures were exchanged a few weeks ago. and negotiations over a one-year contract stalled.

“File and trial” is what baseball people call it – the reluctance to trade once the number trade deadline has passed. It’s a tactic used more often, by more teams than a decade ago, and one more tactic by teams to maintain salaries – sometimes an unwillingness to compromise on $100,000 or less.

The Cubs say they won’t make an exception, even for one of the game’s best receivers.

“It’s not our policy,” team president Jed Hoyer said on opening day. “We have exceeded this deadline.”

Carved in stone, apparently.

So does Contreras’ future — or lack thereof — with the Cubs.

“It might be less of a chance for me to come back,” Contreras said, “if I reach free agency. But that doesn’t close the window. [completely].”

This part about free agency feels as much like a foregone conclusion as Contreras’ departure between his June audition and the Aug. 2 trade deadline — much like his World Series teammates Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant did there. one year old.

“It’s a business,” Contreras said. “It’s not a baseball game anymore. It’s about business.

“More than ever.”

And it makes words like “team culture” and “family” ring hollow from front offices and ownership, especially big-money teams that squeeze salaries and squeeze All-Star level, marquee players. on their lists even in arbitration.

The reality is that Major League Baseball has increasingly pressured teams to maintain hard lines on wages, and the guidelines its Labor Relations Department (LRD) analysts spit out every year to Arbitrating player values ​​have increasingly been treated as MLB guidelines in practice.

But the executives, it seems, gladly played their part: A 2019 report by The Athletic (and confirmed by NBC Sports Chicago) revealed the annual awarding of a cheap replica “championship belt” to the team that did the best job keeping wages in refereeing.

It’s a silly ritual that not only demonstrates league-wide pressure on teams that might otherwise ignore paying a little more to maintain harmony with these presumably productive players, but also shows a lack of respect – if not contempt – for players that the industry too often seems to overlook is the actual game and not the labor costs on a balance sheet.

Back at the Cubs and Contreras, Hoyer said during this media chat last week that “We have a good relationship with Willson.”

Nothing suggests that this is not true. But that’s less than meaningless in this context.

Unless the organization flip-flops on its plans, Hoyer’s staff will provide its arbitration attorney with as much negative data to use against Contreras by June 9 rather than engage in talks of good faith worthy of a “good relationship” to split the difference.

Then he’ll play the other side of the debate and leverage Contreras as a receiver with rare and elite skill in trade negotiations.

Hey, it’s just business.

RELATED: Contreras’ free agency ‘dream’ would be Cubs’ nightmare

“The only thing that surprised me was that they are ready to participate in my last year,” Contreras said. “It is very good.”

Contreras, a fiery competitor on the court, leaned on teammate Ian Happ — who beat the Cubs in refereeing last year — for guidance.

“I’m like, ‘Am I able to say something?’ He said, “No, sit down and listen,” Contreras said. “I was like, ‘Okay.’ “

Happ was also able to provide some insight into the Cubs’ methods.

“I can tell you in mine that the Cubs didn’t go over the line,” Happ said. “They stayed on topic and worked on the points instead of doing something that was completely and utterly irrelevant, which other teams have done.”

Contreras seems confident that he will not only know what to expect and accept whatever the team says about him, but that it won’t be a distraction either, leading to the rare in-season hearing schedule. created by the MLB lockout.

“Believe me, I’m really calmed down. I’m really focused on my season,” he said. “Everything that happens mid-season will happen.”

He backed that up with a game Wednesday at Pittsburgh that underscored his value as a rare slugging receiver — hitting a home run and a double — with one of the strongest arms in the game behind the plate as he suppressed a Pirates rally with a late-inning pick-up from a runner to second in the fourth.

If he sticks to anything close to that, it certainly won’t hurt his opening arguments.

“We’re going to arbitration because we think we have a really good chance of winning,” said Contreras, whose .809 OPS since entering the league in 2016 ranks behind Yasmani Grandal among all players. match catchers.

“We have a strong case to make, and that’s why we’re ready to go. And they will argue and say whatever they have to say; it is not new. I’ve heard it before. They’ve said it before in interviews. And I agree with that.

“I understand it’s a business.”

Whether the Cubs make the right trade decision, whether they appreciate what they’re risking at a marquee position as Hoyer builds his “next great Cubs team,” will not be decided in an arbitration hearing.

But the very decision to take this to a hearing probably answers the question.

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