Could Willson Contreras be centerpiece of Cubs’ next core?

Could Willson Contreras be centerpiece of Cubs’ next core?

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WASHINGTON – For the first time since June 25, 2012, the Cubs started a day without Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Javy Baez on their active roster. As the Cubs turned the page on their last core with their moves at the trade deadline, the search now begins for pieces of the team’s next core.

Catcher Willson Contreras was a 24-year-old rookie when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and is one of just three players remaining from that team.

“To be honest, it’s been tough,” Contreras said of the team’s moves. “It was really tough to see our brothers go. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. We have to understand the front office will do whatever they think is best for the team. The moves were made. There’s no looking back, there’s no regrets. But from now on, we have to look to rebuild this team.”

Contreras, 29, is now a veteran and entering the prime of his career. With the likes of Bryant, Baez and Rizzo all gone, the Cubs’ backstop could be the building block president Jed Hoyer builds around for this next era of Cubs baseball.

The Cubs would have to lock Contreras up to do that and after the team was unable to work out extensions with their superstar trio, their catcher now becomes the priority.

But while the team enters a rebuild with an unknown timeline, Contreras is not looking to abandon ship.

“I would love to stay here,” Contreras said on Saturday. “I love Chicago. I love my city. I love the team. This is the only team that I’ve played for. If they want to rebuild around me, I’m open to talks.

“I’m open to it. My doors have always been open. Whenever they want to talk, I’ll be open with my agents. I’m just looking forward to playing baseball.

Not only did the Cubs lose a lot of premier talent with their moves, but in Rizzo, they lost the team’s emotional leader. Now as the team enters a new phase, they’ll need to fill the void. Contreras, right fielder Jason Heyward and starter Kyle Hendricks are now the team’s longest-tenured players and will now be tasked to take on those roles in the second half.

“I’m just gonna focus on leading the new guys on the right path the right way,” Contreras said. “I’m gonna try to be their support. I told them last night that it’s not gonna be easy the next few months. But we have to enjoy it, try to have fun, and learn from each other.

“I’ve had those conversations with those guys and talked with those guys,” manager David Ross said. “It’s been leaders in a lot of ways, I think with J-Hey and Willy today, and will talk to Kyle after his start. I think those guys have been around winning, have identified it, and understand what that takes.”

It remains to be seen what the Cubs’ long-term plans are and if the team’s timeline lines up with Contreras’. But he doesn’t seem too concerned that he’ll be moved after seeing many of his teammates leave town.

“I’m not thinking of getting traded,” he said. “I’m thinking of guiding these guys in the right way. I’m trying to be their leader. I’m going to do my best.”

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