Recent events in St. Louis have Cubs fans having a wide range of feelings about Willson Contreras and his short tenure so far with the Cardinals. Everything from rage at the Cardinals to pity for Contreras to petty satisfaction with how things have turned out have become common on social media from supporters of his former team over the last few days, and now I've started to even see people opine on how fans should or shouldn't feel about the situation. Let's put a pin in that and start from what the situation even is, in case you haven't been following along.
First, the Cardinals are bad. In fact, here in the year of our Lord 2023, the Cardinals currently sit with the worst record in the National League and the third worst in MLB only behind the lowly Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals. The team has had exactly one losing season in this century (2007), but had lost 8 games in a row before May 7 when only a three-home run game by Paul Goldschmidt against the Detroit Tigers could pull them off the schneid. Their team ERA, which was formerly a strength of the organization, ranks 10th in the NL, and their pitching staff ranks dead last in the NL in hits allowed and 14th in WHIP and batting average against. In comparison, the Cubs rank first in the NL in every single one of these categories.
Now, the Cardinals have effectively removed Willson Contreras from behind the plate, parking him in the designated hitter slot for the foreseeable future. You'll have to pay if you want to read, but The Athletic has fantastic coverage of the situation:
That said, this quote from Cardinals manager Oli Marmol might tell you all you need to know about how the team is handling the entire thing:
It's an embarrassing situation for all involved since Contreras was their one big free agent signing over the winter, and now they're effectively blaming him for their pitching struggles. Is the team unfairly scapegoating him for their lack of pitching success? Well, only partially. Let's take a step back in time, shall we?
Much was made last season over the Cubs potentially trading Contreras at the deadline. Fans gnashed their teeth at the front office because they wanted him extended. He got ovations at Wrigley when they thought it might be his last game. And when he wasn't moved, fans were similarly thrilled he stayed a Cub.
Then there was the weird story about how the Cubs had a deal with the Astros, but Dusty Baker shut it down because he didn't know how Contreras would fit with the team or handle not playing every day:
There were subsequently a lot of grumblings about Conteras's defense. I mean, A LOT. How he isn't a good game-caller, pitch-framer, blocker, etc., and how his main value behind the plate comes in controlling the run game. And if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, a deep dive on Willy's defensive metrics bears this out. In fact, I did one back in 2019 that had him on par, defensively, with Gary Sanchez. That is NOT the guy you want to be associated with if you want to stick behind the dish.
Fast-forward to the thing no Cubs fan ever wanted to see:
Yep, still hideous.
I personally didn't begrudge Willy for getting his money one bit. Much like Dexter Fowler before him, I could have easily rooted for his personal success while continuing to hope for the abject failure of the Cardinals organization as a whole. I also feared he would get the same treatment from the organization and fans that Fowler did, which was... well, really bad. But hey, Willy got paid, so good for him, right? Except Contreras handled his signing much less like Fowler and much more like Ryan Theriot. First, there was this:
A mere day after his contract was rumored, he dropped a full article in the Players' Tribune with effusive praise of the Cardinals organization. For many Cubs fans who supported him with their whole hearts for the better part of fourteen years, it was simply too soon to see him turncoat to their most hated rival. Not to mention Cubs fans felt slighted by the "thank you" post he shared on Instagram, which came complete with 100% photos of him in Cardinals gear, at Busch Stadium, with no memories of the Cubs or Wrigley whatsoever.
Then fans got Contreras spouting about The Cardinal Way and how it's a "better organization" than the Cubs, which seemed to veer right into the "Right side of the rivalry" Ryan Theriot lane.
Finally, and what I believe broke a lot of Cubs fans' hearts, was this anecdote:
Cubs fans had already cried for Contreras. They cried when they thought he was being traded. They cried happy tears when he wasn't and got to stay. They cried again when he wasn't extended and was allowed to leave in free agency. They cried a final time when their biggest rival signed him over the winter to wear obnoxious red and replace one of their most hated icons. Cubs fans have shed plenty of tears FOR Willson Contreras, and rode a roller coaster of emotions on his behalf in 2022, and this... this is how he was going to talk about them now? For some people, it was too far, and they were done. His transition to Hated Cardinal was complete.
Which brings us back to Willson's current predicament. Yes, there is a segment of Cubs fans on social media who are absolutely relishing his quick skid from "Heir to the Yadi Throne" to "DH and Maybe Sometime Outfielder" in the span of around 5 weeks. Do I blame them? Absolutely not. Do I similarly blame fans who are simply grateful to Willson's contributions to the Cubs' successes from 2016-2022 and prefer to remember him that way? Nope, not at all.
But here's the thing: It's not my job to tell you how to feel, or that one way is right and the other is not. If you want to giggle about the SCardenfreude (TM Bert at Bleacher Nation) of it all, that is absolutely your right. A lot of Cubs fans put a lot of emotional energy into Willson Contreras for many years only to feel like the Betty Finn to Willson's Veronica Sawyer.
The Cardinals are totally Heather Chandler, BTW.
I'm also not here to tell you not to love Willson. You want to choose to remember the 2016 championship, his effort for the Cubs and all of the good things that came with that? Again, be my guest!
What I'm not here to do is tell you how to feel. However you feel about Willson is great. Awesome. Perfect. And you should express that. He should read it on the Twitter. Feel free to put it out there just like you would for any other player. He's a big boy (presumably), and should be able to take it! I don't take your feelings personally! And you shouldn't take others' feelings personally, either! Do your thing! At the end of the day, it's all about the current Cubs anyway, and they're pretty darn fun.