CHICAGO — A meeting Sunday of St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, pitchers Adam Wainwright and Jack Flaherty and catcher Willson Contreras led Marmol to declare the day “one of the most productive” of the season.
It came amid confusion over why the Cardinals switched Contreras from being their everyday catcher to serving as their regular designated hitter after signing him to a five-year, $87.5 million deal this past winter.
But Marmol didn’t provide much clarity on the subject before Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs.
“There’s so many different layers and elements to what we’re talking about,” Marmol said. “We are making sure he understands the full process of how we think through a game plan.”
Marmol was asked to be more specific.
“That’s the part I unfortunately won’t disclose and that’s the part that won’t make sense to the rest of the world,” he said. “It just won’t. I’ll wear it until then. That’s the part that will stay in-house, and at the end of the day, it won’t make sense to anyone else, but we do feel confident in the end product.”
Cardinals starters are 12th in ERA (5.33) in the National League but aren’t blaming Contreras, despite his benching. The meeting Sunday was to tell him just that — and how much they need and appreciate him.
“I do want to share something because I don’t want this to get over-compounded in the media without everyone knowing all the information,” Wainwright said. “What we did was we sat him down [Sunday] and just poured into him: We love this guy. We’re glad he’s here. We want him to be our guy.
“Honestly, I don’t know if anyone’s ever told him that. But he’s appreciated. We love him. And we’re glad he’s here. We’re glad he’s part of our team, and I think it’s going to be a huge force for us going forward.”
Contreras is returning this week to Wrigley Field for the first time after playing his first seven seasons (including the 2016 championship campaign) with the Cubs. Before addressing his situation with his current team, he expressed nervousness about how Cubs fans will treat him.
“What I want to see most is the fan reaction,” Contreras said. “I can’t wait for them to announce my name and see what the reaction is going to be. I’m a little nervous; I don’t know what I’m going to get. After this, I’m going to focus on the game.”
As for being removed as the Cardinals’ catcher, Contreras said he believes he’ll have a short-lived stay at designated hitter.
“I can’t wait to get behind the plate,” he said. “That’s what my passion is about. That’s what the Cardinals got, a passionate guy that likes to work, likes to get better and likes to be behind the plate. And they know that, so right now, just focused on getting better, back on the field and especially behind the plate.”
The Cardinals are mired in last place in the NL Central, beginning the week nine games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Pitching has been their biggest problem as the team attempts to move on from potential Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina.
“Yadi’s presence here has been documented but also hard to replace,” Wainwright said. “But it certainly doesn’t speak to being 14 games under .500. Don’t get me wrong, Yadi’s the greatest catcher [who] ever lived, in my opinion. But does he make us go from 10 over to 14 under? That’s on us.”
And apparently on Contreras, though the team is attempting to turn that narrative around. The Cardinals believe the short-term pain of the current situation will pay long-term dividends.
“This is not going to feel good,” Marmol said. “The timing [of Contreras’ return to Wrigley] sucks. But it’s a small blip in the story over the next five years. … This looks reactive — it’ll sound like s— when I say it — but I actually think it’s proactive.”
Cardinals address Willson Contreras move amid his Wrigley return