Maybe I’m getting ahead a bit too much here, but hear me out anyway.
The Cubs have played 28 games — 17 percent of the season. Cody Bellinger has played in 25 of those games, missing three while on paternity leave (Congratulations, again!).
In those 25 games he’s hit .295/.373/.589 (28-for-95) with five doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 23 runs scored.
Those numbers, extrapolated to an entire year, would give Bellinger almost 150 runs scored and a 40-homer season, numbers pretty close to his 2019 MVP season with the Dodgers. He seems fully recovered from the injuries that wrecked the last two years and is playing both offensively and defensively at All-Star level — and the current numbers would likely get him some MVP votes.
This article in The Athletic, published on Sunday, tells a bit about how this renaissance came about:
“There’s been a lot of hard work put in throughout the whole offseason,” Bellinger said. “I’m pretty confident. The body’s feeling good. I’m glad to be in this locker room and have the opportunity to go out and help this team win every day. That’s about all you can ask for.”
The article goes on to quote hitting coach Dustin Kelly, who worked with Bellinger in the Dodgers organization:
“A lot of it with Cody was just understanding and letting him talk about and explain what he’s felt over the past couple of years,” Kelly said. “We knew that he’d gone through a couple different swing changes and tried a number of different things. You don’t really know what that is until you actually talk to him and get in the cage and figure out some of the drills he’s done, some of the moves and feels. We didn’t want to backtrack and try a bunch of different things he’d already tried once or twice before.”
Bellinger is on a “pillow” contract paying him $17.5 million this year after the Dodgers non-tendered him. Clearly, if he keeps up this sort of performance he’ll be a desirable free agent this fall.
Why not lock him up now, then? The Cubs did that with Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner on short-term (three-year) extensions, why not try the same thing with Bellinger?
If the Cubs did sign Bellinger to an extension, that does create a bit of a logjam with two up-and-coming prospects, center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong and first baseman Matt Mervis, since Bellinger can also play Gold Glove defense at first base. It would give the Cubs an outfield of Happ, Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki for three years, which could block PCA — unless the Cubs move Bellinger to first base when PCA is ready, which might not be until 2025.
That would leave Mervis as odd-man-out. Perhaps at that point, Mervis could be traded for some pitching help. Or, Happ, Bellinger, Suzuki, Mervis and Trey Mancini could rotate between the three outfield positions, first base and DH. Or, Mancini, who is under contract for a fairly reasonable $7 million next year, might be tradeable if he continues to improve his hitting.
What sort of deal would I offer Bellinger?
How about three years, $81 million? That’d be $27 million a year, the biggest AAV in Cubs history. Then Bellinger could go back to free agency again at age 30. Or — a longer deal with a lower AAV but more total dollars, but with opt-outs after two and three years, similar to the contract Marcus Stroman signed.
Bellinger’s defense is so good that I want to see the Cubs keep that right where it is, and his hitting appears to be back to at least close to his previous form.
That’s a pretty high degree of difficulty — most center fielders don’t get anywhere near that ball.
Why wouldn’t you want that around?
This poll is closed
... the Cubs should sign him to a three-year extension like the one proposed in the article
... the Cubs should sign him to a longer extension with opt-outs
... the Cubs should wait on any extension
... the Cubs should not sign him to an extension and let him go to free agency
Something else (leave in comments)