Despite long free agency and short contract, Bellinger thrilled for Cubs return

Chicago Cubs' Cody Bellinger runs up the first base line against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning of a baseball game Monday, May 15, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

MESA, Ariz. — Cody Bellinger‘s free agency dragged into spring training, and it ended without the long-term deal he sought.

The process led him back to the Chicago Cubs, though, and that was enough to leave the 2019 NL MVP smiling.

“I’m super happy that it worked out the way it did,” Bellinger said Wednesday at a news conference after signing an $80 million, three-year deal this week.

Projected by some when the offseason began to command a deal well over $100 million, the 28-year-old Bellinger and agent Scott Boras settled for a shorter contract that includes opt-outs after the first two seasons.

Teammates wanted Bellinger back after he shined at Wrigley Field in 2023. Management wanted him back, too. Bellinger had hoped for a longer deal, but his focus was on the reunion with Chicago when he spoke Wednesday.

“There’s definitely that thought that goes into and that is the goal, but I talked to Scott continuously to see what was going on,” Bellinger said. “Yes, but with this, I’m very excited with it all and very happy to get going.”

Boras attended the news conference and sat at Bellinger’s side, with Cubs president Jed Hoyer on the other. Baseball’s most famous agent still has three other high-profile players on the market with Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, and Matt Chapman.

He compared free agency to “like a turkey and a thermometer.”

“You have to go in, see what the temperature is, and evaluate it,” Boras said. “And Cody and I agreed that we’re going to look at this in a couple of ways. Jed was very clear that they (wanted him to stay). With this kind of structure and flexibility, this is what we were looking for.

“We have some irregularity going on in this current market. We have close to 11 teams that are spending less money than a year ago on competitiveness when we have record revenues in baseball.”

Boras has long been willing to drag clients’ free agencies into spring training — most famously with Bryce Harper in 2019 before signing a $330 million, 13-year deal with Philadelphia. He said Wednesday that owners sometimes like to get to camp, evaluate, and act at that time.

“Each team functions in their own way,” he said. “You have owners who want to be directly involved with the roster and negotiations, and then you have owners like the Cubs who operate in a different way. We have a great communication system with the Cubs.”

Hoyer said talks have been going on for a while.

“With Scott and me, we can take the conversation back in July,” Hoyer said. “My comments to him about Cody have never wavered. We probably talked more often than Scott would have liked.

“I think with any negotiation, sometimes there’s a misperception that we just fire offers back and forth. There’s a lot of talking about what each side wanted, and over the last five to seven days, we kind of targeted a deal that made sense for both sides.”

Bellinger is entering his eighth big league season, all but last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and MVP in 2019 when he hit 47 home runs and drove in 115 runs with a .305 average and .409 on-base percentage. He also won a Gold Glove that season in right field.

Shoulder surgery and other injuries contributed to a dramatic slump in his final three years with the Dodgers — he hit .203 with 41 homers in 1,032 at-bats with a .648 OPS. He was non-tendered after 2022 and signed a $17.5 million, one-year deal with the Cubs, hoping a bounce-back 2023 would lead to a long-term contract. Bellinger certainly performed, hitting .307 with 26 homers and a career-high 20 stolen bases. He finished 10th in NL MVP voting.

The Cubs were considered favorites to get Bellinger back throughout the winter.

“I guess I was always very optimistic,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “This is something that we all asked for, maybe me more specifically during the offseason.

“He fits our team in so many different areas, can close so many different holes whether it’s defensively or offensively.”

Bellinger will make $27.5 million this year. He has a $27.5 million player option for 2025 with a $2.5 million buyout that would be payable Dec. 31, 2024. There is a $25 million player option for 2026 with a $5 million buyout that would be payable in equal installments on Jan. 15, 2026, and Jan. 15, 2027.

First-year manager Craig Counsell said he feels he knows Bellinger from across the field during Counsell’s previous job managing the Milwaukee Brewers. He is just getting to know him on a personal level.

The most impressive thing about Bellinger, Counsell said, is “his ability to play multiple positions at a high level. A multi-position everyday player, left-handed hitter, obviously proven, going to hit in the middle of the lineup. That’s hard to find and we’re lucky to get him.”

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