2 Cubs hitting their stride with Trade Deadline looming

Stroman holds Red Sox to one run, Bellinger's grand slam helps Chicago even series

July 15th, 2023

CHICAGO -- There is no getting around the reality that the Cubs hold two of the more intriguing players as the Trade Deadline nears. Marcus Stroman would help any number of clubs in need of rotation help. Center fielder Cody Bellinger could boost a team in need of an impact lefty bat.

Here is the catch: the better Stroman and Bellinger perform over the next two weeks, the more it helps the Cubs’ chances to climb the National League Central standings. In a 10-4 romp over the Red Sox at Wrigley Field on Saturday, they put that on display. Stroman logged his Major League-leading 15th quality start and Bellinger launched a game-changing grand slam.

Stroman sees plenty of reason to keep him and Bellinger in the fold through the Aug. 1 Deadline.

“Everyone’s always putting this emphasis on, ‘Oh, we need to play good in seven days, 10 days, and then we can be buyers,’” Stroman said. “But I truly don’t believe in that. This division’s wide open. And then if you even look deeper than that, as an organization, why would you not want to be competitive for multiple years, year after year after year?

“Belli’s a guy who changes your lineup. He’s a guy who, why would you want him to get away? Why would you want [to trade] a guy like myself, who goes out there and gives you quality starts in a league that it’s incredibly hard to do. It’s incredibly hard to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to get this production out of this young guy.’”

Things are not always that cut and dry.

As things stand, the likely scenario is that both Bellinger and Stroman will become free agents next offseason. The Cubs have to weigh the odds that keeping them will actually help a playoff push this year, while balancing that against the risk of seeing them sign elsewhere for little to no compensation.

“We’re making decisions based on this year,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said on Friday. “But you can learn from the past and learn what other teams did in similar positions, or learn how much a certain decision swung their odds in different ways.”

Bellinger is under contract for a one-year, $17.5 million deal that includes a mutual option for 2024. The center fielder will surely be hoping to turn this comeback campaign into a multiyear deal. Stroman has a $21 million salary lined up for ‘24 with the Cubs, but he has the right to opt out of his three-year deal. That is the expected route for the pitcher.

Those scenarios put the Cubs in a position where the team may want to get some prospects in return if the ballclub does not rattle enough wins over the next two weeks. In Stroman’s case, the pitcher said he will not have any hard feelings if that is Chicago’s approach. He even left open the possibility of talking to the Cubs in free agency next offseason, if he winds up in a new uniform come August.

“I love everything about the city of Chicago and this organization,” Stroman said. “No matter what happens, I would hope that they’d be in the mix in the offseason when it comes to my free agency.”

Against the Red Sox, Stroman surrendered one run over six innings, generating nine outs via ground balls and lowering his ERA to 2.88. The right-hander’s 10th win was helped by a comfortable 8-1 lead by the fourth inning.

Bellinger played a key role in that, having drilled a grand slam off lefty James Paxton to put an exclamation point on a six-run outburst in the third inning. It was the third homer in the past two games for Bellinger, who has turned in a .444/.478/.730 slash line over his past 17 games. Bellinger also made a great running catch in deep center to steal a possible hit from Kiké Hernández in the third.

“He’s been more than expected since he’s been here,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He’s the total package, right? The defense, the clubhouse presence, the at-bat. And the power is showing up.”

That is precisely why teams will be targeting Bellinger.

“I know Belli wants to stay,” Stroman said. “I know I would love to stay here, but a lot of that’s out of our control. At the end of the day, it’s a business, so we have to treat it as such, even though we have this love for this fan base and this organization.”