For Contreras, Giolito and Engel - pay me now or see you later?

Willson Contreras won't endure the salary arbitration process after this spring.

But will this be the last time the Cubs and Contreras agree to a contract?

The lessons involving Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant could foretell Contreras' destiny.

Contreras and teammate Ian Happ, along with White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito and Adam Engel, are among the most prominent local players who are scheduled to exchange salary figures Tuesday with their respective teams as part of the arbitration process.

Cases are often settled before a hearing, but an arbitrator ruled in favor of Happ's $4.1 million bid over the Cubs' $3.25 million offer in February 2021.

Because of the 99-day lockout, any cases that require a hearing won't be conducted until the start of the regular season.

This was the case in 1995 after a strike abruptly ended the last seven weeks of the 1994 regular season and first 3½ weeks of the 1995 season.

It also created some curious moments. Giants outfielder Darren Lewis received a plethora of handshakes and hugs inside the visitors clubhouse at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia after an arbitrator ruled in favor of Lewis' $1.85 million bid over the Giants' offer of $1.025 million.

Perhaps the only uniformed member of the Giants who wasn't giddy was manager Dusty Baker, who feared his bosses would trade his Gold Glove center fielder.

Those fears became a reality two months later, as Lewis was traded to the Reds in an eight-player trade.

After years of failing to sign Rizzo, Baez and Bryant to extensions, the Cubs traded the trio in a span of less than 24 hours prior to the July 31 trade deadline for a batch of ballyhooed prospects.

Four months later, the Cubs acquired insurance by signing Yan Gomes to a two-year, $13 million contract with up to an additional $1 million based on starts at catcher. That prompted Contreras to tweet an emoji of two planes taking off and landing.

The initial plan is for Gomes to occasionally spell Contreras, who would handle the designated hitter duties when he isn't catching. But Contreras, a two-time All-Star who likely will earn $9 million in 2022, can become a free agent after this season.

According to a source, Contreras recently took Miguel Amaya, the Cubs' top catching prospect, to dinner. Amaya, 23, could miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery Nov. 30. But Contreras implored Amaya to rehab and prepare as much as possible in case Contreras is traded or leaves for free agency, according to the source.

Loading up on wins over National League Central tank mavens Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would give the Cubs a sliver of hope for a wild-card berth in an expanded format. Conversely, a dramatic stumble similar to last summer would ignite trade talks if the Cubs can't sign Contreras to an extension.

The situation regarding Giolito is somewhat different, although the White Sox have been more successful in signing their core players to long-term contracts and buying out a chunk of their arbitration and free agent seasons.

Signing Lance Lynn to a two-year extension last July took him off the free-agent market as well as provided rotation stability before Carlos Rodon departed.

Giolito is only 27 and won't be eligible for free agency until after 2023. That provides his representatives and the Sox ample time to negotiate a long-term deal.

At the same time, Giolito has a chance to ascend in his second year under pitching coach and longtime mentor Ethan Katz. Last season, Giolito registered 483 swings and misses (223 outside the zone), the fourth most in baseball.

Giolito also was third in the American League in opponents' batting average (.219), opponents' on-base percentage (.277) and hits per nine innings (7.30). Opponents batted only .219 with runners in scoring position and .140 with runners in scoring position with two outs.

That could entice Giolito and his representatives to bet on him in 2022 for greater riches in the future.

Fulfilling the mission of winning a World Series title in 2022 will bring an abundance of satisfaction for the White Sox, as well as tough financial questions that could arrive sooner rather than later.

White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito is a free agent at the end of the 2023 season. Associated Press
White Sox's Adam Engel is congratulated by Adam Eaton after a two-run homer against Minnesota last season. Associated Press
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