Contreras belongs in Cubs' big picture

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras has two more years before he becomes a free agent, but it seems likely he will stay in the picture for the Cubs.

    Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras has two more years before he becomes a free agent, but it seems likely he will stay in the picture for the Cubs. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/10/2020 6:45 PM

If you went back and logged topics of discussion in all of the Cubs Zoom interviews this season, Willson Contreras' pitch-framing probably ranked in the top five.

Yeah, it was a little mundane, but it fit into the narrative of Contreras' season. He continued to improve his catching skills beyond his cannon of an arm.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Contreras held steady with a 35 percent caught stealing rate in 2020. He tied for the NL lead in baserunners caught stealing with nine.

Veteran pitcher Jon Lester offered some glowing praise on Contreras' growth as a catcher during the playoff series against Miami.

"Willy's grown up a lot," Lester said. "I think people forget he just started catching. When I say just started catching, in the grand scheme of things, Rossy (manager David Ross) caught for pretty much his whole life. Willy was an infielder up until not that long ago.

"I couldn't give you the exact year, but he converted to a position he'd never played. Then he skyrockets to the big leagues and you expect him to catch games in the World Series and expect him to learn in those situations. That's hard to do."

A year ago at this time, there was talk that Contreras might be the most likely of the Cubs position players to be moved, since he carried strong trade value.

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Now, after poor offensive years from many of the other players left from the 2016 World Series team, it seems like he's a guy with a better chance at long-term success. Contreras has two more years before becoming a free agent, which helps the Cubs in this era of economic uncertainty. So it seems almost certain Contreras will be back.

He was also one of the few guys who was able to break out of the late-summer slumps that plagued the Cubs this year, hitting .305 in September. Contreras finished with the lowest batting average of his career at .243, but he held steady in on-base percentage by drawing walks more frequently than he has in the past.

"If we're talking about individually, I'd say I'm going to walk out of here with a big smile on my face," Contreras said after the playoff finale. "I'm going to talk out of here with my head up because every day I play 100 percent, I gave my team the best."

Contreras did not catch Yu Darvish this season, but Ross said that was mostly to ensure he gets a rest every five days. Backup Victor Caratini played a good amount of designated hitter this season, but slumped later in the year and ended up hitting .241 with 1 home run.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's easy to forget Contreras made his major league debut early in the 2016 season. He's 28 now after five seasons with the Cubs.

"He's meant a lot to me at this point in my career, the feedback and the confidence and the kick-in-the-butts sometimes that he does," Lester said. "He's just done a really good job, not only with me but with our whole staff."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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