Now that he is officially a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, Willson Contreras admitted the thought of joining his former team's biggest rival first crossed his mind when he got an in-person look at Albert Pujols' pursuit of 700 homers.
At his introductory press conference on Friday, Contreras said a Sept. 4 game between the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs was when he envisioned himself playing for the other team.
The Cardinals defeated the Cubs, 2-0, with Pujols' pinch-hit two-run homer off Brandon Hughes in the bottom of the eighth inning being the difference.
Contreras was unable to play in the series due to a sprained ankle. He has been around the rivalry between the two National League Central clubs since making his big-league debut in June 2016.
There was a time last season when it seemed like Contreras wouldn't be around to see those September games between the Cubs and Cardinals. He was one of the most talked about players being moved prior to the trade deadline, but no deal ever materialized.
ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Houston Astros owner Jim Crane vetoed a deal in August that would have sent Contreras to Houston in exchange for right-handed pitcher Jose Urquidy.
Even though that one deal didn't go through, it's even more baffling in hindsight the Cubs didn't trade Contreras. There was no indication they even tried to negotiate a new contract with him this offseason after he turned down the qualifying offer.
A trade was expected for Contreras and Ian Happ before the deadline that both players received a standing ovation after a July 26 game at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were going to embark on a road trip that lasted through the trade deadline.
Instead of being able to pick up a player who could have helped them in 2023 and beyond, the Cubs got nothing back and saw Contreras accept a five-year, $87.5 million deal from the Cardinals.
Contreras hit .249/.368/.441 with 15 homers in 95 games against the Cardinals. He will get his first chance to play against the Cubs on May 8 at Wrigley Field.