Fans, players alike focus on one name at Cubs Convention

January 14th, 2024

CHICAGO -- The young Cubs fan who stepped up to the microphone in the ballroom inside the Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk on Saturday afternoon did not waste words. The kid sent new manager Craig Counsell the question that has hovered over Cubs Convention this weekend.

“Are you going to sign Cody?”

The packed hall reacted in laughter as Counsell smiled and considered how he would address the club’s pursuit of free agent . The star center fielder was a crucial piece to the 2023 club that narrowly missed the playoffs. Bellinger remains a target who could help push Chicago over that line this year.

“You need to join the media,” Counsell said to the young fan. “That’s a hard-hitting question right there. That’s direct. I like how you deliver the news.”

With Spring Training one month away, the Cubs have had ample time to reflect on last year. Bellinger was a key member of a North Sider squad that across a three-month stretch between June and September was one of the best teams in baseball.

The Cubs’ slide over the season’s final three weeks left them one win shy of the National League’s Wild Card field. Within that spiral, the D-backs took six of seven games from the Cubs and finished one game above in the standings. Arizona then went on to win the NL pennant.

That has been on the players’ minds as they reconnected this week.

“There's already been conversations had,” Cubs lefty Justin Steele said. “It's like, ‘We're literally one win away from possibly going to the World Series.’ We were fighting with the Diamondbacks over that last spot, and they made it all the way to the World Series.

“It just shows you, you've just got to get in and anything can happen. I feel like it should leave a little bit of a bitter taste in some people's mouths. But for me, it's exciting going into this year, because I feel like we all know that we can do that again -- and even more.”

After a slow start to the offseason, the Cubs ramped up their maneuvering on the eve of their annual fan fest with the signing of pitcher Shōta Imanaga and a trade for slugging prospect Michael Busch and reliever Yency Almonte from the Dodgers. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer then said on Friday night that the Cubs will “end up making more deals” this offseason.

That message was received well by some of the Cubs’ clubhouse leadership.

“Jed said yesterday -- he's not done, right? He's going to keep making moves,” left fielder Ian Happ said on Saturday. “We'll see what the team looks like in mid-February, when we're all in Arizona, but I think we have a really good core. We have a really good group.”

The resilience of the Cubs’ group was on display after the team slipped 10 games under .500 on June 8 last year. Over the next 78 games, Chicago rattled off 50 wins to pull within striking distance of the top of the NL Central. The Braves (52) and Orioles (50) were the only other teams with at least 50 wins in that time period.

That was before a taxed bullpen, injury issues and ill-timed slumps contributed to the September slide.

“We saw what we were capable of and where we could've been,” veteran pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “It was disappointing to end that way. But I think it fueled us and fueled the fire for this offseason.”

Shortstop Dansby Swanson was excited to move beyond his hectic transition year and into a season of more familiarity with the Cubs. The same goes for righty Jameson Taillon. Happ pointed out how younger players like Steele and Adbert Alzolay enter ’24 after breakthrough showings a year ago. Multiple players and staff were optimistic that Seiya Suzuki and Imanaga would each benefit from being teammates in the Majors.

The Cubs’ top prospect, center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, is poised to make an impact this season, along with other up-and-comers. That includes Busch, who found his way to Chicago to experience the Cubs Convention after being dealt away by the Dodgers.

“I get to come play for the Chicago Cubs. It’s pretty cool,” Busch said. “That’s something I was actually looking forward to when I found that out. This is a cool opportunity and a cool chance to play for one of the most historic franchises in all of sports.”

Even with that potential for ’24 and beyond, there was one thing on everyone’s minds this weekend. When Swanson was on stage, he was as direct as the young fan earlier in the day.

“Before we get to next year, we’ve got to re-sign Belli,” Swanson said to an eruption of cheers from Cubs fans.