'He's one of us': Cubs react to Cody Bellinger's new deal

February 25th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- There was hope among Cubs players that would walk through the clubhouse door at some point this spring. The star center fielder was a crucial part of last season’s team both in production and personality, so there was a collective belief that bringing Bellinger back always made the most sense for the ballclub.

That moment arrived on Sunday morning -- eight years to the day of Dexter Fowler’s surprise arrival for the Cubs team that went on to win the World Series -- when Bellinger reunited with teammates behind the scenes at Chicago’s complex. The outfielder is back after agreeing to a three-year, $80 million free-agent contract, sources told MLB.com.

“He's part of this club. He's one of us,” Cubs veteran Kyle Hendricks said, before Chicago's 7-0 loss to San Diego on Sunday. “And there was a little void in here, for sure, before he came back.”

The Cubs have not officially confirmed the signing, but multiple players mentioned seeing Bellinger in camp on Sunday morning. There is the matter of completing a physical before the deal can be pushed across the finish line -- a moment that has felt like the logical conclusion to Bellinger’s extended free-agent experience.

In the end, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer found a contract structure that helped the team remain in the postseason mix in the immediate picture, while not creating an obstacle for the team’s robust farm system. Per sources, Bellinger will have the ability to opt out of the contract after each of the first two seasons, if he wants to test free agency again.

“It's a great deal for both sides,” Hendricks said.

While Cubs manager Craig Counsell declined to address Bellinger specifically -- as the deal was not yet official -- he did note the impact of adding players who can play more than one position. Bellinger’s primary spot is in center field, but he can also play first base.

“Look, everyday players, multi-position players, they do a lot for your position group,” Counsell said. “Those are very valuable players. Obviously, it kind of changes a lot of what you think about your position group.”

From the moment Bellinger reached free agency, Cubs players were not shy about expressing their hope that the front office would re-sign the center fielder. During Cubs Convention last month, shortstop Dansby Swanson said as much on stage to an eruption of cheers from the team’s fans.

“The impact that he had on our group last year,” Swanson said on Sunday, “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.”

That was echoed again by center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong -- MLB Pipeline’s top-ranked Cubs prospect and the No. 16 prospect on the Top 100 list -- who is competing for a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster. It is possible that Bellinger’s return means Crow-Armstrong will begin the year at Triple-A Iowa, but the young outfielder was nonetheless happy to hear the Cubs were bringing the veteran back.

“He was big for me,” Crow-Armstrong said of getting to know Bellinger last year. “You have the captain of this team wanting him back, saying it publicly in front of big fans. And then you’ve got guys like me who really responded to the way he kind of carried himself in here too.

“He reaches all aspects of his team, and hopefully he just brings that same energy this year. I have all the faith in the world that he will.”

The news of Bellinger’s deal broke in the early-morning hours on Sunday, creating a situation where players found out as they woke up. Hendricks said he saw the alerts on social media when he checked his phone before heading to the complex.

“I’m just so excited, man,” Hendricks said. “I think you see the reactions in here. 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 now, everything that it means.”

Bellinger’s pending signing -- combined with the free-agent deals for starter Shota Imanaga and reliever Héctor Neris and the trade that reeled in prospect Michael Busch and reliever Yency Almonte -- helps fortify an MLB roster that looks capable of contending. The Cubs’ front office has also built one of baseball’s top farm systems, which should have a steady stream of players impacting the big league club over the next several years.

Swanson, who joined the Cubs via a seven-year contract worth $177 million prior to last season, raved about the work Hoyer and his front-office team have done.

“There's so many good things that they do,” Swanson said. “I just want to commend them for obviously what they've done not only this offseason, but just throughout the last few years and what they've been able to build. And now it's just time to make all that work prove worthwhile.”