With Bellinger off the board, who will sign next?

February 25th, 2024

's offseason finally came to an end on Sunday, as a source told MLB.com that he agreed to return to the Cubs on a three-year, $80 million contract that includes opt-outs after each of the first two seasons.

Bellinger’s agreement took one of the five most prominent remaining free agents off the board, leaving , , and still looking for deals.

What does Bellinger’s return to Chicago mean for the rest of the market?

First domino to fall?
Early in the offseason, the consensus was that once Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed -- yes, that was this offseason -- the rest of the major free-agent market would follow suit.

A number of notable deals were signed, but Bellinger was among a group that became known as “The Boras Four,” along with Snell, Montgomery and Chapman. Martinez, who turned down a one-year, $14 million offer from the Giants before San Francisco signed Jorge Soler for three years and $42 million, is also represented by agent Scott Boras.

Now that Bellinger has agreed to a shorter-term deal front-loaded with a pair of $30 million salaries in 2024-25 (he’ll earn $20 million in 2026 if he hasn’t opted out), could this be a sign that Boras’ other clients will be amenable to the same types of contracts?

Snell, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, has received an offer from the Yankees, and while the Angels continue to linger in the background, a strong market has yet to surface for the 31-year-old. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Snell agree to a deal similar to Bellinger’s, with a higher average annual value up front along with yearly opt-out clauses, allowing him to test the market again after a year or two.

Montgomery has also drawn interest from the Angels, who appear primed to ultimately land either him or Snell when all is said and done. The Red Sox also remain on the periphery of the Montgomery situation, though it seems Boston is waiting for his price tag to come down. Perhaps a shorter-term deal with opt-outs is something that would work for the Red Sox.

As for Chapman …

Are the Cubs finished?
Chicago has been viewed as a potential landing spot for Chapman for much of the winter, and while the Bellinger signing might seemingly take the Cubs out of the mix for the third baseman, it would be foolish to close the door entirely on that scenario.

The Cubs’ payroll remains beneath the first Competitive Balance Tax threshold, though signing Chapman would likely push them past the $237 million mark. If Chapman is willing to take a deal with the same structure as Bellinger -- albeit likely with a lower AAV and total guarantee -- then the Cubs could still be in play for the third baseman if they were willing to surpass that first threshold.

Christopher Morel is currently slated to see a lot of time at third base, but the young slugger might be better suited as a utility player/designated hitter. Adding Chapman would give the Cubs a strong defensive presence at the hot corner, and assuming there are opt-out clauses built in after 2024 and ’25, Chapman will be able to reassess the market again as soon as next winter, this time without a qualifying offer attached.

Carlos to Cody
Although Bellinger had been projected by many to land a deal north of $200 million this winter, the 28-year-old wound up taking a shorter-term deal to return to the Cubs.

The contract is similar to the one Carlos Correa -- another Boras client -- signed with the Twins prior to the 2022 season. Like Bellinger, Correa had been seeking a larger long-term contract, but he wound up agreeing to a three-year, $105 million deal with opt-outs after each of the first two seasons.

Correa did indeed opt out after his first year with Minnesota, hitting the free-agent market again entering his age-28 campaign. He agreed to a megadeal with the Giants worth $350 million over 13 years, but concerns raised from his physical prevented the deal from being finalized. Correa then agreed to a 12-year, $315 million contract with the Mets, though similar issues following his physical caused that to fall through, as well.

That led to Correa’s return to the Twins on a six-year, $200 million contract, a deal which includes club options from 2029-32 that can become guaranteed based on plate appearances during the previous season.

Bellinger, who enjoyed a bounceback campaign with the Cubs in 2023, will now be able to test the free-agent market again following the 2024 or ’25 season if he so chooses, giving the 28-year-old the opportunity to seek a bigger deal without being attached to a qualifying offer.