Cubs to re-sign Cody Bellinger

One of the top hitters in free agency reached an agreement overnight, as a starting center fielder Cody Bellinger He has a three-year deal with the Cubs worth $80 million per ESPN's Jeff Passan. According to Passan, the deal includes an opt-out after the 2024 and 2025 seasons. Passan adds that the deal is somewhat upfront, with Bellinger getting $30 million in 2024 and 2025 with a $20 million salary in 2026.

Bellinger returns to the Cubs after signing a one-year contract with the club last winter and pitching an excellent platform campaign. In 556 trips to the plate, the 28-year-old has slashed .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases while splitting time between center field and first base for Chicago. That performance earned Bellinger a Silver Slugger Award and a top-10 finish in NL MVP voting and appears to have him ready to make money this winter with a big contract. MLBTR rates Bellinger as the No. 2 free agent in this year's class behind only the two-way star Shohei Otanisign a 12-year, $264 million deal for the outfielder on our annual list of the top 50 MLB free agents.

As Bellinger's offseason continued, it became clear that a $200MM+ commitment was not going to be on the cards. In his latest mailbag on Wednesday, MLBTR's Tim Dirks predicted a three-year, $90 million deal with two opt-out options. While Bellinger entered the winter with several big-market clubs appearing to be vying for his services including the Giants, Yankees, and Blue Jays, each pivoted in other directions throughout December: San Francisco landed the KBO star Jung Ho Lee To the patrol center, Juan Soto He was shipped to the Bronx to fill the left field spot in their outfield mix, and the Blue Jays changed course after missing out on the opportunity Shohei Otani To focus instead on smaller deals for players such as… Kevin Kirmayer And Isiah Keener-Faleeva. That left Bellinger with few clear suitors outside of the current Cubs, though his free agency continued into spring training as his camp held out for a long-term deal while the Cubs and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer remained steadfast waiting for the market to clear. Ultimately, Chicago's patience was rewarded, as the club will retain Bellinger's services for at least the 2024 season on a relatively low-cost deal similar to the three-year, $105 million deal from Boras Corporation. Carlos Correa She signed with the Twins two seasons ago.

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There were likely a number of factors, in addition to the relatively small number of suitors, that contributed to Bellinger being signed to a short-term deal. The player was excellent as he was in 2023, but struggled mightily while battling shoulder issues and a broken fibula during the 2021 and '22 seasons. Although he did manage to get on the field in 900 games over the two seasons, he hit a measly .193/.256/.355 during that span, a far cry from the .273/.364/.567 career slash line he entered. His 2021 season earned him Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in 2017 and 2019.

While Bellinger A strong, healthy 2023 campaign has certainly helped allay concerns raised by his dismal campaigns of the previous two seasons, and a look at his advanced metrics reveals some reasons to worry that the 28-year-old's 2023 campaign may not be entirely sustainable. While Bellinger's career-best batting average last season was aided by a low strikeout rate of 15.6%, it was also aided by a .319 BABIP that surpassed his career .277 entering the 2023 season by more than 40 points.

This jump in good fortune for the batted ball came despite peripherals with unusually low connection quality. for every Statcast, Bellinger's average exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit percentage were well below average, landing in the 22nd, 27th, and 10th percentile respectively among eligible major leaguers. Combined, these peripheral numbers left Bellinger with an average xwOBA of just .330 last year, 40 points below his stellar 0.370 wOBA. Between his obvious struggles in recent seasons and the troubling peripheral factors behind his return to form in 2023, it's no surprise that Bellinger gets a short-term, opt-out-heavy deal that maintains flexibility rather than a long deal that increases guarantee.

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Such a contract could set Bellinger up for a more significant payday in the future. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted in his recent look at the possibility of a short-term deal for Bellinger, the slugger is unusually young for a free agent and, as such, may be uniquely suited to a short-term arrangement. If Bellinger can maintain a similar level of production to his 2023 rebound, he will be close to opting out of the remaining two years and $50 million of his deal and returning to free agency, where he will market his 29-year-old. Campaign and don't be held back by the qualifying offer, which the Cubs extended to Bellinger this winter. Next year's free agent class will also likely benefit from added certainty regarding the ongoing Diamond Sports bankruptcy, which has affected the television deals of some contenders like the Rangers and Twins. They are joined by mostly big-spending clubs like the Padres and Mets that faced steep luxury tax bills last year and have used this season as an opportunity to reset.

Meanwhile, Bellinger will return to Chicago, where he will immediately improve the club's lineup and odds in a dramatically crowded NL Central outfield. Bellinger's 134 wRC+ and .525 slugging led all Cubs hitters with at least 100 trips to the plate last year, while ranking fourth in on-base percentage. The slugger also provides a much-needed lefty bat to the lineup that complements the right-handed hitters in the lineup such as Dansby Swanson, Sia Suzuki, Christopher MorrellAnd Nico Horner. In addition to providing the club's lineup with potentially impactful offense, Bellinger's versatility provides the Cubs with flexibility as they look to incorporate young hitters into the big league lineup on a regular basis.

player Michael Bush He will likely enter the season as the club's regular starter after the club acquired him from the Dodgers in a trade last month, leaving Bellinger to start the season as the club's everyday option in center field. With that being said, it's highly likely Crowe Armstrong House He lurks after making his league debut last September and plays 80-degree defense in midfield. The club's reunion with Bellinger takes the pressure off of Crow Armstrong, who was hitless in 19 games over a cup of coffee last fall, to produce immediately at the big league level and allows the Cubs to continue his development in Triple-A to open the year.

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If Crow-Armstrong proves he's ready to take over the day-to-day job at center field at some point this season, Bellinger could move to outfield corner, first base, or even DH depending on the health and production of the rest of the lineup. One possibility for the Cubs is for Bush or Morrell to establish themselves as a capable defender at third base, allowing the other to handle DH duties. In that case, Bellinger would be able to move to first base and make room for Crew Armstrong to get regular playing time at center, though that's just one potential option for a Cubs team that could see a 2023 first-round pick. Shaw died Or the top corner of the field Owen Casey He debuts sometime this year after strong performances in Double-A last season.

The reunion with Bellinger will likely be the culmination of an offseason that also saw Chicago land the left-hander Shota Imanaga and Veteran Relief Arm Hector Neres In free agency. Club chairman Tom Ricketts recently indicated that the club was unlikely to exceed the competitive balance tax threshold this winter List resource The club expects to have $234 million in payroll in 2024 for cash-based transfer purposes, less than $3 million short of the first cap of $237 million. That means reversing the situation would be almost mandatory for the club to make further additions this winter, barring a deal that clears salary elsewhere on the roster.

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