Belli back with one goal: 'Bring this team to the playoffs'

February 28th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. – Narrowly missing out on the postseason last year with the Cubs stayed with over the offseason. As the star center fielder’s free agency persisted, and a creative shorter-term contract looked increasingly like the realistic outcome, Bellinger felt a strong pull to return to Chicago.

On Wednesday afternoon, Bellinger was back in a Cubs uniform, going through his first workout with the North Siders after re-signing via a three-year, $80 million contract. He went through defensive drills on Field 1, took batting practice with Dansby Swanson at Sloan Park and then sat down for a press conference at the Cubs’ complex.

“I was wanting to be here,” Bellinger said. “I did want to come back to this team and I did want to do my best to help. I mean, we were so close last year -- so close last year to becoming a playoff team. That was a pretty important piece for me, was to get back here. I want to help bring this team to the playoffs.”

Bellinger’s teammates from the 2023 squad were not shy about wanting him back, either.

At Cubs Convention in January and throughout the Cubs’ clubhouse this spring, the core members of the ballclub made it known repeatedly that they wanted Bellinger on board again. Not only did his defensive versatility and offensive prowess impact the team, Bellinger was a beloved part of the dynamic behind the scenes.

Swanson fired up the fan base at Cubs Con when he took the stage and declared: “We’ve got to re-sign Belli.”

“This is something that we all kind of asked for,” Swanson said on Wednesday. “Maybe me, more specifically, throughout the offseason.”

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said his talks with agent Scott Boras about a Bellinger reunion started around July of last season, but actual contract negotiations did not gain steam until the past week. In the end, the sides agreed to a structure that includes opt outs after each of the 2024 and ‘25 seasons, giving Bellinger a shot to re-enter the market and try again for a long-term deal.

It was a deal that aligned with Hoyer’s balancing act of competing for the playoffs now while maintaining an MLB roster flexible enough to not block prospects who could be arriving soon. And Hoyer was thrilled that he was able to deliver on the collective desire Bellinger’s teammates had to keep him on the Cubs.

“It means a lot, honestly,” Hoyer said. “The fact that Cody came in last year and, in one year, endeared himself to his teammates that much and to the fans that much, I think is really important, and for obvious reasons. The way he played was fantastic, but also how he carried himself on the field, in the clubhouse. It didn't surprise me that there was so much desire to bring him back.”

Bellinger was happy to be back around most of the same group as last year, when he hit .307 with 26 homers, 29 doubles, 97 RBIs, 95 runs and 20 stolen bases in 130 games for the Cubs. He was one of just four MLB players in 2023 to hit at least .300 with 25-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases, joining NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., AL MVP Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman on that short list.

Bellinger said he was “craving baseball” as the process persisted into February and Spring Training games were being played. Right after signing, Bellinger sent video of offseason swings to Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly and was back in the batting cage this week already talking shop.

Bellinger spent the past few days starting to build a rapport with new Cubs manager Craig Counsell, and expressed excitement to play for him after respecting him from afar. Counsell was looking forward to having such a versatile player to insert into the heart of his lineup. Bellinger will ramp up over the next week before Chicago schedules his first Cactus League appearance.

“It’s exciting,” Counsell said. “We’re adding a really good player to our mix, and a player that’s a multi-position, everyday player, left-handed hitter, obviously proven. He’s going to hit in the middle of the lineup. There’s a lot of things that that player brings to the table that’s hard to find. We’re lucky to get him.”

Bellinger admitted that he did hope to sign a longer-term deal this winter.

“Yes, obviously,” Bellinger said.

When that was not realistic, Bellinger was focused on reuniting with his teammates with the Cubs to make another push for the October stage.

“I did want to come back here,” he said. “I just love Wrigley Field. I love the fans. Me and my family enjoyed Chicago. And when it was coming towards the end and everything was kind of coming to light a little bit, this was definitely something that I wanted and both sides agreed on. And I'm super happy that it worked out the way it did.”