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Here’s another reason the Cubs should keep Cody Bellinger

It has to do with how you build a team and fanbase.

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Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The just-completed four-game series at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Cardinals had 151,718 paid admissions, an average of 37,930 per date.

That sounds good, but none of the dates sold out. The Cubs haven’t had a sellout of 41,000+ at Wrigley since before the pandemic, with the listed seating capacity of the ballpark still 41,649. The first of that four-game set, Thursday night, July 20, had an announced crowd of 34,251, more than 7,000 short of a sellout, or 20 percent short, to look at it a different way.

What does this have to do with Cody Bellinger? Everything. This is a bit of a roundabout argument, but please at least hear me out. I know this has seemed like an “all Cody Bellinger all the time” site the last couple of days, but he’s definitely the hot topic of the week, so here goes.

The Cubs routinely sold out Wrigley Field during the 2015-19 heyday of the World Series core, with popular players such as Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. In those five years, 108 Wrigley games had an announced crowd of 41,000 or more, an average of more than 20 sellouts a year. Since then? None. It’s not just the losing that’s done that, part of it is having players who will draw crowds.

To this day, go to a game at Wrigley and those four jerseys will be the ones you see most. To this day, there are still Cubs fans angry that their World Series heroes were traded away. I’m not one of those people — the trades were the right thing to do, those four have had uneven performances since they left and the team likely would not have done any better with them.

But what they did provide was star power. And yes, that sells tickets.

What jersey am I seeing the most right now at Wrigley, among current players? That’s right, Cody Bellinger’s. They’ve sold a ton of them. Yes, more than Ian Happ or Nico Hoerner, two home-grown stars.

Now, I am not saying the Cubs need to sign Bellinger to a long-term deal because he’s popular. That’s obviously not the way to win baseball games or championships. They need to sign Bellinger because he’s a great player around whom you could build a championship team (along with others like Dansby Swanson, Happ, Hoerner and yes, Marcus Stroman) AND he’s a popular player who could help with marketing the team.

It’s been discussed at length here whether the Cubs could offer Bellinger a long-term deal now and he’d sign it, and of course the answer to that is: “Almost certainly not.” Bellinger has earned the right to test the open market, and his performance with the Cubs this year tells us, I believe, that he’s returned to most, if not all, of his pre-injury level that had him winning the N.L. MVP Award in 2019. He just turned 28. He’s got significant postseason experience. He’s exactly the kind of player you should be building around.

This article in The Athletic by Patrick Mooney, which is mostly about Swanson, touches on Bellinger’s situation:

Bellinger, who’s hitting .457 with six home runs in July, also said he has an open dialogue with a front office that has kept him in the loop amid trade rumors. There will be internal support behind the idea of bringing him back next season, a recognition that he has so many things the Cubs lack right now — left-handed power, the ability to play Gold Glove-level defense at positions of need (center field and first base) and a certain swagger. Unlike Stroman, 32, the 28-year-old Bellinger can receive a qualifying offer after this season. There is also a simple way for the Cubs to keep Bellinger around — by offering him the most money.

(NOTE: That article was written before Bellinger’s 1-for-3 day with a homer Sunday. He’s now at .452 for July with seven home runs this month.)

Which is exactly what they should do. Jed Hoyer & Co. should let it be known that they want him more than anyone else, and they will match or beat the best offer he can get on the open market. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts should open the wallet for this one. Note that I’m not suggesting a ridiculous spending spree like the one Mets owner Steven Cohen went on. Clearly, that didn’t work out.

But to keep one of the best players in the game who could be one of the leaders of the Next Great Cubs Team (as Jed often puts it)? Hell yes, do it.

I’ll end this as I began it, with a note about attendance. The Cubs have had 53 home dates so far this year, and been (mostly) lucky with weather. They’ve sold 1,789,018 tickets so far this year, an average of 33,755. That average ranks ninth in MLB. Through 53 home dates in 2022, Last year, through the identical number of dates, the total was 1,743,019. So paid attendance is up 2.6 percent so far this year, a relatively negligible increase.

The Cubs need to start sending the message to the fanbase that they’re serious about building a winning team that, as did the club from 2015-19, contend every year and fill the house 20 times a year. If they sell off Bellinger and/or Marcus Stroman, I can see the exodus of season-ticket holders continuing.

Tell Bellinger you want him here no matter what it takes, Jed. That sends a message not only to the fanbase, but to the ballclub.

Get it done.

Poll

Cody Bellinger...

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    ... the Cubs should trade him at the deadline and move on
    (64 votes)
  • 16%
    ... the Cubs should trade him at the deadline and sign him back in free agency
    (142 votes)
  • 4%
    ... the Cubs should keep him till the end of the season, then let him walk with a qualifying offer
    (38 votes)
  • 69%
    ... the Cubs should keep him till the end of the season, then tell him they’ll match any offer he gets on the open market
    (609 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (19 votes)
872 votes total Vote Now