After months of speculation, the Cubs will pass the trade deadline without moving two of their biggest trade chips. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that both catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Ian Happ will both be staying put in Wrigleyville.
It hasn’t exactly been a quiet deadline for the Cubs, as Mychal Givens, David Robertson, Chris Martinand Scott Effross have all been shipped out of town in the last few days. But beyond this bullpen exodus, it seems that Chicago will be hanging onto its two most heavily-sought after position players, despite many rumors about other teams’ interest.
Clubs such as the Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Padres had been linked to Happ, who is hitting .279/.360/.436 over 408 plate appearances and was just named to his first All-Star team. While Happ’s production has been somewhat inconsistent over his six MLB seasons, he has been a solidly above-average hitter overall, and also emerged as a capable defensive player in center field.
Since Happ is arbitration-controlled through the 2023 season, there may not have been quite the urgency on Chicago’s part to move the 27-year-old unless another team stepped forward with a knockout offer. The Cubs continue to give mixed signals about their near-term and longer-term plans to contend, yet since their most recent moves have trended towards more retooling, it is probably safe to guess that Happ will continue to feature in trade rumors throughout the offseason and up until next year’s deadline if Chicago isn’t in contention.
The lack of movement on Contreras, however, is harder to figure. The longtime Cubs catcher is a free agent after the season, and since the team aggressively moved several pending free agents (ie Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez) at last year’s deadline, it seemed like a sure bet that Contreras would follow suit this season. If anything, it may have been a little surprising that Contreras wasn’t moved last year as well, except the idea that the Cubs wanted to keep the catcher and sign him to a contract extension also didn’t come to fruition.
The Mets, Rays, Padres, and Astros were all linked to Contreras in recent rumors, though Houston instead obtained Christian Vazquez from the Red Sox as a catching upgrade. Tampa Bay acquired Christian Bethancourt earlier in July, and now he’ll stand as the Rays’ only catcher trade of deadline season.
As for other suitors, it could be that the Mets, Padres, and the ever-popular “mystery teams” simply didn’t step forward with an offer that met the Cubs’ liking. San Diego will continue with the respectable Austin Nola/Jorge Alfaro tandem at catcher, and the smaller-scale depth addition of Cam Gallagher from the Royals. (Plus, it could simply be most of the Padres’ trade attention was focused on larger matters like the Juan Soto blockbuster). New York ended making only relatively minor upgrades instead of any big swings at the deadline, and the team will now have to continue to hope that James McCann can get back on track.
Another factor to consider is the recent lack of an agreement between the league and the players’ union about the implementation of an international player draft. Since that deal wasn’t reached, the old qualifying offer system will remain in place throughout the life of the current collective bargaining agreement, and thus the Cubs would get a compensatory draft pick back for Contreras if he rejected a QO and signed elsewhere. That means that essentially, other teams had to offer something that the Cubs preferred to that extra pick.
Even with all of this in mind, it is still surprising that president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer couldn’t find any kind of acceptable trade match for Contreras, either in the days leading up to the deadline or even back during the offseason. Considering the lack of extension talks, it would seem unlikely that the two sides will match up on a new deal before Contreras hits the open market, or after he becomes a free agent and has 29 other teams to bid on his services. Contreras has been open about the stress and uncertainty he has faced with all of this nonstop trade buzz, but while that noise will quiet, some awkwardness may remain over what could be his last two months in a Cubs uniform.