CHICAGO — A day after refusing to “continue on the road we were on … and potentially end up in a worse, long-term place” with Willson Contreras as their receiver, the Cardinals have been working to try and rebuild their relationship and trust with the three-time All-Star, who returned Monday to where he had most professional success.
Manager Oliver Marmol held pre- and post-match meetings on Sunday where veteran players such as Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty could remind 30-year-old Contreras that he is still a big part of their future – both as the heart of the order-hitter and as the team’s primary receiver in the not-too-distant future. Still, the fact remains that the Cardinals were sufficiently concerned about Contreras’ lack of connection with the struggling pitching staff that they decided to steer him away from capture indefinitely.
“You had a choice to continue on the path we were on, and I honestly think we could have potentially ended up in a worse situation – in the long run – than the one we are in today,” Marmol said before the Les Cardinals will face the Cubs on Monday at Wrigley Field. “It’s just noise; it goes away.
“It sounds reactive…but I actually think it’s proactive,” Marmol added.
Over the weekend, the Cardinals announced that Contreras — the free agent wide receiver they were targeting to replace Yadier Molina and eventually rewarded with an $87.5 million contract to get him away from the rival Cubs — would play exclusively at DH for now. while Reserve Andrew Knizner handles capture duties. Hoping to show Contreras he’s not to blame for an 11-24 start that already puts the Cardinals as far out of first place in the division as they have been since the end of the 1997 season, the team’s veterans rallied around the 30-year-old Attrapeur/DH.
“What we did was we sat down yesterday and poured on him,” said Wainwright, who returned Saturday after missing five weeks with a groin sprain. “We love this guy. We’re happy he’s here and we want him to be our guy. I think he took it well. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone ever told him that. But he is appreciated, we love him and we are happy that he is here.
The timing of the position change was awkward at best with Contreras returning to Chicago on Monday to face the team he played with for seven seasons. Along with being a three-time All-Star during his time in Chicago, he helped the Cubs win the World Series in 2016.
Contreras, who entered the series averaging .265 with two home runs, nine doubles and 14 RBIs, was on the Cardinals roster Monday as a DH. Granted, he was worried about how he might be received by Cubs fans now that he’s on the other side of the rivalry.
“There’s a good chance (that he’ll be booed), but hopefully it’ll be 50/50 – 50% cheering me on and 50% booing me, which is acceptable,” Contreras said. “I’ll never be mad at the Chicago fans because I’ll always be grateful to them. They’ve always had my back. But there’s a chance, yeah, (he’s booed).
In addition to Wainwright, Marmol and others with the Cardinals showing their support in recent days, Contreras said he was flattered to have received an outpouring of positive messages from Cardinals fans via social media.
“The support I’ve had from them since day one has been really special,” he said. “Today I get (direct messages) and messages that I never thought I would get. It’s really special for me, and I’m really grateful to these fans and to play in front of one of the best bases. of baseball fans.
While declining to go into specifics about areas where Contreras needs to improve before returning to regular catching duties, Marmol said the addition of the pitch clock and pitchers such as Miles Mikolas, Giovanny Gallegos and Wainwright were running out of time at spring training because of the crowds. Baseball Classic helped make Contreras’ transition with the Cardinals more difficult. However, he feels the organization and the receiver have grown closer after Sunday’s series of meetings.
“Conversations that were happening behind closed doors with a meaningful group are going to move things forward,” Marmol said. “It couldn’t have been scripted any better than what happened yesterday.”
David Ross, Contreras manager with the Cubs and former MLB wide receiver with seven franchises, said the Cardinals were certain to go through growing pains — regardless of their new catcher — after having Gold Glover nine times as Molina. held the position for 19 seasons.
“Yadi did some special things and you’re not going to replace that person,” Ross said. “Doing things differently sometimes does not go smoothly. This happens with new managers, new pitchers and with new coaching staff changes. It takes a period of adjustment, and I think it goes with everything.