Why Willson gives Contrera’s “personal motivation” free rein

Of course it’s personal. How could it not be personal for Willson Contreras?

No renewal talks for the three-time All-Star. A tough line by the Cubs in the final year of arbitration for the World Series Championship starting catcher — which had him spinning in the wind for the first half of the season until an 11th-hour settlement that averted a potentially contentious hearing.

Then trade talks for more than a month, a tearful goodbye to the only team and fan base he’s known in the majors – only to be left untraded, leading to another tearful goodbye and pain.

Mostly injured. pain more than anger.

And then came the qualifying offer, which — after he predictably turned it down Tuesday — burdens his free agency process with a draft-pick indemnity for any team that signs him.

A top 10 free agent by most ratings, Contreras might not be the top name out there, the top slugger, or the top defender.

But one thing is certain: no free agent is more motivated this winter than Contreras.

Win. To win over his next team. And even – if just a little – to prove the Cubs got it wrong.

“It’s certainly a kind of motivation, like personal motivation,” he said during an interview with NBC Sports Chicago as the final day of his Cubs career wrapped up in Cincinnati last month.

Most of the time, he said, in his first free-hand experience, motivation is all about winning. It wins.”

That could eventually happen as one of several competitive teams try to improve their catch, from the World Series champ Astros — who almost got traded for him by deadline day — to the rival Cardinals trying to beat Yadier Molina, who’s at the Hall of Fame is bound to replace.

TIED TOGETHER: Why Willson Contrera’s free agency looks like waiting game.

That victory could go somewhere else at the expense of the Cubs, well that’s just business – the other side of the business coin that has caused the Cubs’ most loyal and passionate player so much anxiety over the past eight months.

Perhaps worst of all was the silence when it came to a potential berth extension — even as he broke out in the first half of the season to win a third starting All-Star pick, he mentored debutants like Chris Morel and Nelson Velázquez and repeatedly spoke up his commitment to the organization and his desire to stay.

“I could take that personally,” he said. “But I won’t do it because I know how this business works.

“But if I was waiting for something like this to happen – I did it. I’ve really been waiting for this.”

Contreras admitted he allowed himself to believe the Cubs would come to him for an extension as he neared another All-Star offer, and then again “even after the trade deadline,” he said when he was shockingly unmoved.

“But it didn’t happen,” he said. “So it’s already over.”

It emerged the Cubs didn’t have time to rebuild a market when the deal the Astros agreed with Jose Urquidy for Contreras was shattered by Astros manager Dusty Baker and Astros ownership in the final 20-24 hours before the deadline They believed that they would return more than the value of the compensation they would receive through Contreras’ free agency.

And that’s it.

After 14 years that began as an amateur third baseman, he retired in the summer of 2009 in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. Before one of the polo shirts ran the team, someone named Ricketts was even close to the organization.

It’s not what he wanted. But even with the qualifying offer attached, Contreras is walking free with the best shot of his career at getting the kind of multi-year deal and security he was seeking with the Cubs. With a team that wants him, which he said as a free agent was his top priority.

TIED TOGETHER: Contreras is looking for “somewhere I’m wanted” in the free hand

As for his legacy at a club that had the most successful run in its history with him behind the plate: “I would say it’s the passion I have for the game, the energy I put into it every day, and the love i have for baseball and the love i have for the team.

“I think that’s my legacy right there. How hard I play, even through injuries.”

And he had stats — in fact, the best OPS among catchers since his rookie year in 2016 (at least 1,500 plate appearances).

“And all while catching,” he said. “I did everything to be one of the best. And it makes me proud how hard I’ve worked, how hard I’ve put in for this team.”

And as if that wasn’t good enough for the Cubs to keep him with them long enough to contribute to their next competitive core, “they know what they’re doing,” he said.

And he knows that he’s going to be fine, that it’s going to work out for him, maybe for the best.

“The best for both,” he said. “I grew up here and when I signed here none of them were here.

“I wish you all the best. As I told them, I don’t have any hard feelings about it.”

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