Willson Contreras already went through his Wrigley Field goodbyes two months ago when a trade felt imminent.
This time, with another looming departure, Contreras merely wants to have fun with his Chicago Cubs teammates.
Contreras came off the injured list Tuesday and was back in the lineup as the designated hitter, his first game since Aug. 30. The series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies kicked off the final six-game homestand — and the last guaranteed days of Contreras playing in front of the home crowd on the North Side.
Contreras, who had been sidelined by a left ankle sprain, expressed before the game the importance of being able to return for the final homestand.
“We all know I’ve been here for 14 years, and we don’t know if there’s a real goodbye or just a moment for a few months,” he said. “That’s what I can do at this point, have fun and do the best I can.”
As much as Contreras is trying to simplify what might be his final nine games with the Cubs — including a season-ending three-game series in Cincinnati — he admittedly has thought a lot about what comes next in free agency.
“But at the same time, I don’t control the market, so the market will speak for itself,” Contreras said. “We want to just do it and see what happens.”
Questions already surround Contreras’ free-agent outlook. He turns 31 in May and has dealt with lower-body injuries during his career, a concerning combination for a catcher. His power production, however, puts him among the best at his position offensively. Contreras has a 129 OPS+ in 107 games this year, part of a four-year stretch that features a 119 OPS+.
Although he doesn’t grade out highly as a pitch framer, his arm and back-pick ability add value, a notable strength with bases increasing in size next season, which could boost steal attempts.
Without providing specifics, Contreras has an idea of what he is looking for in his next team. Asked whether winning or financial security is more important, he instead cited a big-picture desire.
“For me, it’s more feeling that I want to be somewhere that I’m wanted,” he replied. “I want to feel like they’re going to appreciate what I do on and off the field. They appreciate what I bring to the clubhouse and what I can do.”
The Cubs appear poised to extend a qualifying offer to Contreras by the November deadline. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer indicated at the trade deadline they did not move Contreras because other teams did not offer the appropriate value.
For the Cubs, receiving a compensatory draft pick for Contreras was part of the equation — if he turns down the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere.
Contreras took a diplomatic approach and plans to keep his options open should the Cubs give him a qualifying offer.
“I’m not going to give you an answer,” he said. “I’m going to wait and see what’s next. But we have to consider it.”