What happens to Cody Bellinger for next season and beyond will help set the direction of the Chicago Cubs for years to come.
That sounds like hyperbole, but it really isn’t.
Bellinger came off two awful seasons, largely ruined by injuries, to have an excellent, 4.4 bWAR season on the North Side of Chicago. It wasn’t quite what his 2019 MVP season for the Dodgers was, but it was basically equivalent to what he did his Rookie of the Year season in 2017 and a bit better than the followup in 2018. If not for the knee injury that cost Bellinger a month, he’d likely have had a 30-HR, 100-RBI season (he finished with 26 and 97) and possibly stolen 25 bases (as it was, he had a career-high 20).
Bellinger started 81 games in center field and 44 at first base. While the claims that he was a Gold Glover at either position are a bit exaggerated, he did play plus defense at both.
Obviously, that sort of player is not only useful, but essential to putting together a winning team. The Cubs want him back. Regardless of what you might hear, it appears Bellinger would like to come back. Here’s what Jed Hoyer said about him in his season-ending presser Tuesday:
“He had an incredible season, and it felt like during that run that we had, it just felt like one two-out single after another,” Hoyer said. “Whenever we needed him, he sort of bailed us out. That’s certainly not lost on us. We sat down with him on Sunday and had a long conversation. We’ve had really good dialogue throughout the whole year. He loves Wrigley Field and he loves the fans. I think his experience was fantastic and our experience with him was fantastic. We’d love to bring him back. We’ll have a lot of conversations with him. Obviously, it’s a process, and that process does not start now. It’s going to play out for a while.”
The proverbial elephant in the room is Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras. What Boras should be doing for his client is what the client wants, not what Boras wants. It’s been said that Boras might hold Bellinger out until February to sign. That’s a presumption on Boras’ part that a better deal would be had by waiting. I am not sure that is true.
If Bellinger wants to stay with the Cubs, he should tell his agent that and ask him to make the best deal he can with the Cubs. If Bellinger wants to shop around, that’s certainly his right, but in the end I don’t see how he’s best served by waiting until spring camps open. At that point teams might just want to move on and Bellinger would have to “settle.”
I am hoping that the “lot of conversations” Hoyer and Boras and Bellinger have will start soon. There’s nothing stopping the Cubs from extending him right now, up until the five-day “quiet period” after the World Series ends.
Hoyer also noted that if the Cubs cannot bring Bellinger back, they’ll have to replace that production. It’s production that helped the team score 819 runs — that’s just the sixth time since 1970 the Cubs have scored 800+ runs (1998, 2008, 2016, 2017, 2019 are the others). A rumored trade for Pete Alonso wouldn’t necessarily do that, either, as Alonso would require trade pieces AND he’s a free agent after 2024. Want to go through this whole thing again with another slugger?
It’s time for the Cubs to pony up money for a big-time player. They came close to the postseason this year in a season many felt wasn’t going to be anywhere near that. They should be setting up for a run at the N.L. Central title, at the very least, in 2024.
What would it take to keep Bellinger in Chicago? He turned 28 in July, so by baseball reckoning 2024 will be his age-28 season (players turning “xx” after July 1 have their “age-xx” season the following year). Thus he’ll likely be looking for seven or eight years. Seven years would take him through his age-34 season; eight, through age 35. Bellinger seems the sort of player who will age well, and could easily play first base full-time by the end of the deal.
Back in May I suggested signing Bellinger to a three-year, $81 million contract that would allow him to go to free agency again at age 30. Clearly, this wouldn’t come close to getting things done now, and in July I noted that Bellinger’s “star power” would also be beneficial to the franchise, in addition to his play on the field. The Cubs need guys like that, and it’s clear the fanbase has reacted positively to him. Just looking around Wrigley and seeing all the Bellinger jerseys late this season tells you how popular he’s become.
The Cubs need him, both for play on the field and what he means to Cubs fans.
Eight years, $240 million. Who says no?
This poll is closed
... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one proposed in the article
... the Cubs should sign him, but it will take more in dollars or years or both
... the Cubs should not sign him
Something else (leave in comments)