Cody Bellinger‘s offense has fallen off badly over the last three seasons, to the point that the Dodgers chose not to tender him a contract rather than paying a projected salary of $18 million or more in his final year of arbitration. But for all his flaws at the plate, he’s a 27-year-old left-handed hitter who runs the bases well and can really pick it out in center field. We’ve been talking for a while now about how the Cubs covet that profile and it turns out they’re not alone.
According to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, at least five teams reached out to Scott Boras within an hour of the official announcement that his client was a free agent. Several more have called since, Bowden tweeted, so a conservative estimate puts it at eight teams and probably more.
There is significant FA interest in Cody Bellinger as at least 5 teams called within an hour of him being non-tendered,several more have called since according to source close to Bellinger…..his LH bat…plus plus defense in the OF & 1B great base running & former MVP is only 27
— Jim Bowden⚾️🏈 (@JimBowdenGM) November 20, 2022
That’s not great news for the Cubs because it indicates the potential for a bidding war that could feature win-now teams willing to pay for potential with a fairly stable floor. While I had initially thought Bellinger’s main suitors would be teams like the Cubs that are just entering their competitive window, the postseason showed us that teams can still win with glove-first center fielders. When combined with the limited risk of a one-year deal and the possibility that Bellinger finds his swing, the robust market is understandable.
The Cubs aren’t lacking in payroll flexibility and they’ve said they actually prefer short deals even if the AAV is high, but their lack of motivation could hamper them if the pursuit for Bellinger indeed gets pricey. That’s not to say they don’t want to start winning next season, only that other suitors might be further along in terms of competitiveness and will thus be more willing to pay a premium if they believe it’ll give them an edge.
One other very important facet of the situation is that Bellinger has to be thinking beyond next season, so money and winning may not be paramount. Nor should they be, since what he earns in 2023 will pale in comparison to what he can get after next year in a long-term deal if he bounces back. He and Boras will surely prioritize a situation in which he can get maximum exposure, support, and playing time.
“I’ve already been offered multi-years,” Boras told Ken Rosenthal on Sunday. “Most likely, because of his age, we don’t want a multi-year.”
A team that needs to win now may offer a lot less leeway given Bellinger’s recent performance, whereas one without as much urgency won’t need to bench him after a bad month. The Cubs mainly need someone to fill in defensively for a year to keep Pete Crow-Armstrong‘s seat warm, so they can allow Bellinger all kinds of time to figure things out with the bat.
They still have to be willing to pay a pretty penny for that lottery ticket and Bellinger’s camp is going to need to buy into the fit, especially with so many other options. I still think the Cubs have a very good shot here, it’s just a little lower than I thought it was two days ago.