Bellinger, Cubs finalize 3-year deal

February 28th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- The storyline that has hovered over Cubs camp this spring has been whether free agent Cody Bellinger would rejoin the club after his stellar showing last season. Chicago’s players have not been shy about expressing their hope that the center fielder would be brought back into the fold.

News broke in the early Sunday morning hours that the Cubs and Bellinger had found a middle ground on a three-year deal worth $80 million, per sources. The ballclub officially announced the signing after Tuesday’s 6-6 Cactus League tie with the Reds, but terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I’m just so excited, man,” Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. “We’ve always been hoping for it. Not expecting it in any way, but we’ve known where he’s at, we’ve known how much he wanted to be here. Just to get it figured out for both sides is just so amazing for our ballclub.”

The reunion between Bellinger and the Cubs always felt like the logical outcome, especially as his free agency persisted and other potential suitors targeted alternatives. The question was always whether Bellinger and his agent, Scott Boras, would be willing to accept a shorter-term deal from Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, who has built a reputation for holding the line on perceived value.

“I think Jed does a really nice job,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said earlier this spring. “He definitely sees that you can only spend every dollar once, and he knows that you don't want to have too many long-term contracts when you have a lot of young guys that are coming up through the Minors. And I think he's always done a really nice job of balancing the present and the future in everything he does.”

In this case, Bellinger has the defensive flexibility to play both center field and first base for the Cubs, who have a need at both of those positions. The Cubs’ top prospect per MLB Pipeline is center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 16 on the Top 100 list) and the club swung a trade this offseason to acquire prospect Michael Busch (No. 51) as an option for first base.

Per sources, Bellinger is set to earn $30 million in 2024, followed by $30 million in ‘25 (if he does not opt out) and $20 million in ‘26 (if he does not opt out after the second season).

Bellinger’s arrival does not impact Busch’s ability to compete for the first-base job this spring. In center field, Bellinger would immediately assume the primary role, but the Cubs have an experienced backup in Mike Tauchman. Chicago also has a couple outfield prospects (Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario) who could push for roles on the Opening Day roster, but seem likely to begin with Triple-A Iowa.

Crow-Armstrong made it clear early in spring that he was in favor of bringing Bellinger back, even knowing it could impact his path to the Majors.

“I love Cody. That’s my friend -- bottom line,” Crow-Armstrong said. “He was only ever really good to me as a friend, but also as a teammate and guy in the clubhouse. You hear the dudes talk about him. Everybody loves that guy. Everybody shares that same thing. But you get everything in this game by what you do on the field. So, that is what it is. If Cody comes back, that’s great. That gives us a better chance to win.”

During a panel at Cubs Convention in January, shortstop Dansby Swanson made his feelings known, eliciting cheers from fans when he declared: “Before we get to next year, we’ve got to re-sign Belli.”

Bellinger experienced a brilliant beginning to his career, winning the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers, followed by the ‘19 NL MVP and a World Series in ‘20. He made two All-Star teams in that span and picked up a Gold Glove Award. Injuries plagued him across ‘21-22, contributing to a 66 OPS+ (34% below MLB average offensively) and leading to the Dodgers non-tendering Bellinger before the ‘23 season.

The Cubs inked Bellinger to a one-year, $17.5 million contract, giving him a chance to re-establish himself as one of the game’s elite players. He made good on that deal, hitting .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers, 29 doubles, 20 stolen bases and 97 RBIs for the Cubs last season. He led MLB with 75 RBIs from July 1 through the end of the season, was named the NL’s Player of the Month for July (.400 average) and ended with a .984 OPS against lefties.

Bellinger was also one of just four players in the Majors last season to hit at least .300 with 25-plus homers and 20-plus steals, joining NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., American League MVP Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman on that short list.

“The impact that he had on our group last year,” Swanson said, “from a personality standpoint, from a versatility standpoint, and then obviously his ability to produce at a high level, it really made our team and put ourselves in position to have some success last year. And that’s something that we’ve been looking forward to being able to get back.”