Cody Bellinger Returns to the Cubs

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports activities

For as robust as his 2023 marketing campaign had been, and for as nicely positioned as he was on this winter’s market, Cody Bellinger‘s free company was at all times hampered by questions of sustainability. His debut season with the Cubs adopted two unsettlingly unhealthy years with the Dodgers, and the metrics underlying final season’s resurgence had been comparatively modest relative to his manufacturing, elevating the likelihood if not the probability of regression. In mild of these points, whilst he positioned third on our Prime 50 Free Brokers listing heading into the offseason and reportedly sought a contract as excessive as $250 million, it appeared fairly seemingly he’d come away with significantly much less. He did, agreeing to return to the Cubs on a three-year, $80 million deal, one which comprises opt-outs after the primary two seasons, and one which was nonetheless pending a bodily as of this writing.

Successfully, it is a pillow contract, negotiated by the agent who created the time period, Scott Boras. The 28-year-old Bellinger will get the chance to indicate that his 2023 efficiency was no fluke, with two probabilities earlier than his age-30 season to safe a a lot greater payday. He’s assured $30 million in 2024, with salaries of $30 million in ’25 and $20 million in ’26 if he hasn’t exercised his opt-outs, in keeping with ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Bellinger got here to the Cubs after an eventful 10-year run within the Dodgers’ group, one which started when the son of former utilityman Clay Bellinger was drafted within the fourth spherical out of an Arizona highschool in 2013. He hit 39 dwelling runs whereas profitable NL Rookie of the Yr honors in 2017, and smacked 47 homers two years later whereas taking dwelling the NL MVP award. His well timed hitting and spectacular fielding through the 2020 postseason helped the Dodgers to their first championship since 1988, however a kind of well timed hits precipitated his fall. Celebrating what proved to be the decisive dwelling run in Sport 7 of the 2020 NLCS towards the Braves, the exuberant Bellinger dislocated his proper (non-throwing) shoulder after bashing forearms with teammate Enrique Hernández. He underwent arthroscopic labrum surgical procedure after the World Collection, began slowly in spring coaching, after which within the fourth recreation of the season suffered a hairline fracture in his left fibula, knocking him out for eight weeks. Unable to seek out his rhythm as he recovered from each shoulder and leg points, he hit a ugly .165/.240/.302 (47 wRC+) with -1.0 WAR in 350 plate appearances, although he confirmed indicators of life through the playoffs when he adopted a shortened swing with decrease hand placement; he hit .353/.436/.471 (146 wRC+) throughout 39 plate appearances in 12 postseason video games. Whereas he obtained off to a stable begin in 2022, he couldn’t preserve it regardless of endlessly tinkering together with his swing. Distinctive protection in heart discipline saved him within the lineup, however he hit simply .210/.265/.389 (83 wRC+) with 1.8 WAR, and was nontendered following the season.

Lower than three weeks later, Bellinger agreed to a one-year deal with the Cubs, one which paid him $12.5 million for 2023 with a $1 million bonus for profitable NL Comeback Participant of the Yr honors (which he did) and a $5 million buyout on a $25 million mutual possibility for ’24. He declined his finish of the choice in addition to the $20.325 million qualifying provide he obtained, and entered the market as the highest free agent place participant, behind solely pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto on our listing.

For Bellinger, final yr’s change of surroundings proved to be simply what the physician ordered. Reuniting with Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly and assistant Johnny Washington, each of whom he had labored with within the Dodgers’ system, Bellinger centered on adjusting his mechanics, notably on the subject of his hand placement and again hip, permitting him to make use of his decrease physique higher. He additional tailored his strategy by pulling the ball with much less frequency than at any time since his rookie season, and shortening his swing with two strikes to give attention to contact. The consequence was his greatest season since 2019, as he hit .307/.356/.525 (134 wRC+) with 26 homers and 20 steals in 130 video games — he missed almost 4 weeks with a left knee contusion — whereas slicing his strikeout price from 27.3% to fifteen.6%. Coupled with stable protection in heart discipline, his 4.1 WAR tied for Twentieth within the NL and was the second-best displaying of his profession.

Bellinger’s intent is price noting when digging into his underlying metrics, as he sacrificed some energy in trade for contact en path to the bottom exit velocity, barrel price, and hard-hit price of his profession:

Cody Bellinger Statcast Profile

Season BBE EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2017 337 90.8 11.6% 45.7% .267 .254 .581 .540 .380 .365
2018 409 89.8 8.6% 38.1% .260 .237 .470 .432 .345 .327
2019 454 91.1 12.6% 45.6% .305 .319 .629 .635 .415 .430
2020 171 89.3 9.4% 41.5% .239 .284 .455 .494 .337 .374
2021 224 89.3 7.1% 34.4% .165 .209 .302 .358 .237 .281
2022 360 89.4 8.3% 38.1% .210 .213 .389 .354 .284 .278
2023 424 87.9 6.1% 31.4% .307 .270 .525 .434 .370 .327

Bellinger’s barrel price positioned in simply the twenty seventh percentile, his exit velo within the twenty second percentile, and his hard-hit price within the tenth percentile. He outdid his anticipated slugging proportion by 91 factors, and his anticipated wOBA by 43 factors; each gaps ranked third within the majors amongst batting title qualifiers (502 PA). Then again, his .279 AVG and .312 wOBA with two strikes ranked second and seventh within the majors, thanks largely to his consistency in gathering hits regardless of gentle contact, a subject that’s Mike Petriello and our personal Esteban Rivera each investigated.

All of that created one thing of a puzzle for Bellinger’s suitors — most prominently the Blue Jays (thought-about the favorites to signal him as of mid-December) and Giants, with the Mariners and Yankees additionally linked to him through rumors. Bellinger’s deal at all times appeared unlikely to strategy the recent air of the $200 million-plus Borasphere, however in our Prime 50 train, Ben Clemens projected him to get a six-year, $150 million contract, and our crowdsource anticipated a six-year, $144 million one. Different retailers went even larger.

Because the Blue Jays dragged their toes this winter, the Giants turned to Jung Hoo Lee, and the Cubs refused to behave like a large-market workforce, Bellinger’s anticipated market by no means absolutely materialized, with the aforementioned points undoubtedly taking part in a component, as nicely. By ZiPS, he did nicely to get as a lot as he did:

ZiPS Projection – Cody Bellinger

2024 .267 .327 .441 487 80 130 24 2 19 73 44 92 14 108 3 2.7
2025 .262 .323 .427 485 78 127 24 1 18 72 44 91 13 103 3 2.3
2026 .263 .325 .425 475 76 125 24 1 17 69 44 89 11 103 3 2.3

ZiPS tasks only a three-year, $70 million contract for that forecast, per Dan Szymborski, although maybe that’s not shocking on condition that Bellinger has had only one good season out of the final three. Based mostly on the percentile breakdowns, it seems the system offers him solely a couple of 10% to twenty% likelihood of matching or exceeding final yr’s efficiency:

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Cody Bellinger

Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 34 29 .317 .380 .544 146 5.2
90% 31 27 .304 .367 .520 137 4.6
80% 28 24 .291 .353 .498 127 4.0
70% 27 22 .282 .345 .478 122 3.5
60% 25 21 .274 .336 .465 115 3.1
50% 24 19 .267 .327 .441 108 2.7
40% 23 17 .257 .320 .429 102 2.2
30% 22 16 .250 .313 .415 97 1.9
20% 20 14 .241 .303 .400 90 1.4
10% 18 13 .228 .289 .374 82 0.8
5% 16 11 .221 .283 .357 74 0.3

Bellinger most likely doesn’t need to match his 2023 numbers to justify opting out, and he does have two probabilities to determine when to enter the market once more. Nonetheless, a mediocre 2024 adopted by a robust ’25 would most likely go away groups with related inquiries to those they confronted this winter.

As for the way he matches into the Cubs, the important thing phrase is flexibility. The workforce already had Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki, each coming into their age-29 seasons and on multi-year offers, set for the outfield corners. Previous to Bellinger’s re-signing, Pete Crow-Armstrong, the Twentieth-ranked prospect on our Prime 100 listing, appeared more likely to take over because the Chicago’s common heart fielder. A 2020 first-round choose acquired from the Mets within the Javier Báez commerce on the ’21 deadline, Crow-Armstrong hit a mixed .283/.365/.511 (127 wRC+) in 73 video games at Double-A Tennessee and 34 video games at Triple-A Iowa. He went simply 0-for-14 with three walks and two sacrifice hits in a cup of espresso with the Cubs, although to be truthful, he began simply three of the 13 video games through which he appeared. He’s thought-about an elite heart fielder who’s fearless on the basepaths and will produce a minimum of common energy. “If he can plug that gap over time, he’ll be a five-tool celebrity,” wrote our prospect workforce of Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin. “Extra seemingly, he’ll have some 20-25 homer seasons amid a ton of strikeouts and a low OBP, with peak years resembling Mike Cameron’s (although nearly definitely to not that stage of annual consistency).”

Given Crow-Armstrong’s age (he turns 22 on March 25) and modest quantity of upper-level expertise, it at all times appeared attainable that he would begin the season within the minors earlier than rejoining the Cubs. Now it might seem much more seemingly. If he hits his method again to the majors in a rush, the Cubs may use him in heart discipline and play Bellinger at first base, the place lefty-swinging rookie Michael Busch was slated to be the starter or a minimum of the lengthy half of a platoon with righty Patrick Knowledge. The 26-year-old Busch, no. 84 on our prospect listing, is taken into account a bat-only prospect who final performed first base commonly at North Carolina, and who could also be higher suited to DH responsibility. Alternately, Bellinger has expertise in each left discipline (315.1 innings, although none since 2018) and proper (989 innings, the majority of them in 2019), and Happ has expertise at each defensive place besides shortstop and catcher, although he hasn’t performed the infield since 2021, when he totaled 36 innings, largely at second base. Additionally within the class of transferring elements is Christopher Morel, who final yr noticed time in any respect three outfield positions plus second base, shortstop, and third base; he was projected to get the majority of the work at DH but additionally to be within the third base combine together with Nick Madrigal. Suffice to say that new supervisor Craig Counsell could have choices for methods to piece his lineup collectively, and {that a} clearer image could emerge throughout spring coaching.

Through our Depth Charts projections, right here’s a comparability of how the scenario appeared earlier than the signing and instantly after, when it comes to estimated plate appearances:

Cody Bellinger and the Cubs’ Shifting Components

Participant Pre/Publish-Signing 1B 3B LF CF RF DH Complete PA*
Bellinger Publish 280 245 98 623
Busch Pre 308 91 49 469
Busch Publish 252 63 84 420
Crow-Armstrong Pre 420 420
Crow-Armstrong Publish 350 350
Happ Pre 623 42 665
Happ Publish 651 14 665
Madrigal Pre 357 371
Madrigal Publish 294 301
Morel Pre 35 49 35 14 21 378 553
Morel Publish 126 21 14 14 329 518
Suzuki Pre 441 161 602
Suzuki Publish 406 182 588
Tauchman Pre 21 203 147 371
Tauchman Publish 14 70 168 252
Knowledge Pre 245 126 14 35 420
Knowledge Publish 133 182 357

* = contains plate appearances positions that might not be proven

When it comes to total taking part in time, the actual loser of the Bellinger deal is Mike Tauchman, a succesful heart fielder who hit .252/.363/.377 (107 wRC+) final yr, with Crow-Armstrong, Madrigal, and Knowledge additionally dropping substantial time. Remember that all of that is primarily based on greatest guesses simply as exhibition season has opened, and earlier than the Cubs have even confirmed the deal. Loads may nonetheless change.

Notably with the Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, and Reds every projected to win between 79 and 85 video games, the NL Central is predicted to be a dogfight. Any impactful addition could possibly be the distinction between reaching the postseason — one thing the Cubs haven’t achieved since 2020 — and staying dwelling. By bringing again Bellinger, the workforce has given itself a greater shot at taking part in in October with out assuming an enormous long-term danger. Bellinger, for his half, will get to return to a snug scenario with a contending workforce, whereas additionally understanding that he can play his method into a much bigger contract. It will likely be fascinating to see how this all unfolds.

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