CHICAGO -- Before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, the goodbyes and tributes for Willson Contreras seemed to occur almost daily. The cheers and tears were heartfelt and voluminous, curtain calls for one of the last Cubs remaining from the 2016 championship team.
But in the end, Contreras remained with the Cubs, who could not find an offer to meet their demands. It meant that his departure was delayed by a few months, at least -- but it also was the first sign that the conditions developing around Contreras and his impending free agency might well extend his time with the team into 2023 and beyond.
The broad assumption within the industry is that Contreras, 30, will be given a qualifying offer by the Cubs this offseason, which means his free agency will be anchored to draft-pick compensation -- an antiquated part of the economic system that many agents had hoped would be negotiated out of the game in the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
The owners had tied the elimination of the qualifying offer and draft-pick compensation to an agreement on the international draft, and without an agreement by the July 25 deadline, the old system remains. As a result, a handful of players could see the bidding for their services stunted in free agency, Contreras perhaps more than any other.