Cody Bellinger is, once again, a major part of the Cubs' present, if not their future (2024)

It’s a quarter to eight on a Sunday and a sportswriter gets up from bed to go into his home office. He tells his wife, a Chicago Cubs fan, that Cody Bellinger signed while they were sleeping.

“For a lot of money?” she asks.

“Well …”

As it turns out, it was a pillow announcement over a pillow contract for Bellinger, his agent Scott Boras and Cubs president Jed Hoyer.


The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal confirmed Jeff Passan’s overnight report that Bellinger signed a deal that could potentially go for three years for a possible $80 million.

Really, it’s a one-year deal with options, just like last year but for more money. Bellinger gets $30 million this year and if he wants it, $30 million again in 2025. He can keep it rolling with $20 million in 2026. But I think we’ll see Bellinger, good health willing, test free agency again next offseason. Then Boras can get back to work and Cubs fans can get back to complaining online about Cubs owner Tom Ricketts being cheap.

A lot of money? For one year, sure. But it’s not the blockbuster, nine-figure deal that Bellinger likely expected after opting out of his deal with the Cubs last fall. Still, it’s a raise from the $17.5 million he made from the Cubs in 2023. (He also got a $1 million bonus for winning Comeback Player of the Year.)

Good morning, @Cubs fans 😏

— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 25, 2024

The Bellinger signing makes the Cubs division contenders, if not World Series hopefuls in 2024. It certainly brings a healthy dose of February enthusiasm into Cubs camp.

This deal is a “win” for Hoyer, who wants to keep payroll flexibility and has to have payroll discipline, but if Bellinger leaves (again) and all those highly touted outfield prospects don’t work out … I guess, that’s a problem for another time. Future Jed can worry about that one.

Present Jed brought back the guy he needed to bring back in Bellinger, a left-handed slugger who jump-started his career back up with a team-MVP season, if not a league-wide one. He slashed .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers as the Cubs came back to life along with him — for most of the season.

After that performance, you would’ve guessed Bellinger would get that $30 million per-annum salary guaranteed over six or seven years. The promise of long money is why you employ Boras as your agent, but once again a sluggish baseball offseason has bled into spring-training games as Boras’ high-end free agents look for deals in a rigid (or frigid) baseball economy.


Unless you’re working for insanely gifted players like Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, this wasn’t an agent’s offseason. Once it was clear that teams weren’t lining up to sign Bellinger to a $200 million deal, his return to Chicago made the most sense. And Hoyer knew he had leverage.

It all worked out for the best. The Cubs got their guy at their price, Boras can say he did what’s best for his player, and Bellinger can be happy to be back at Wrigley Field.

Last week, Ricketts told reporters they were waiting for Boras to seriously engage with them on a deal and that he wouldn’t go over Hoyer’s head to negotiate one-on-one with Boras. For all the criticism Ricketts gets — like most team owners, he deserves his share — at least Hoyer can say his boss isn’t a panicky meddler.

For all the fretting about the Cubs’ winter of inaction, it sure seems that Hoyer read the market correctly this offseason, signing pitcher Shota Imanaga and Bellinger to shorter-cash deals than experts anticipated while adding to the bullpen. This after making the unexpected, aggressive and expensive move to steal Craig Counsell away from a division rival and fire his incumbent manager, David Ross.

Last year, Bellinger played outfield, first base and DH, and I imagine we’ll see a similar mix in 2024, with touted rookie Pete Crow-Armstrong in the mix for center field and newcomer Michael Busch expected to help at first base.

But those two players can’t be counted on yet for a team serious about winning. How serious are the Cubs? Serious enough to bring back Bellinger. Not serious enough to stake the future on him. I would’ve liked to have seen Bellinger inked to a longer, guaranteed deal, but Hoyer isn’t in a position every offseason to hand out the kind of deal that Dansby Swanson got.

Cody Bellinger is, once again, a major part of the Cubs' present, if not their future (1)

Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson can celebrate with Cody Bellinger again in 2024. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

In his recent interview with reporters, Ricketts said he anticipated his team always being right around the Competitive Balance Tax, which is $237 million for the year-end 40-man payroll. Before this deal, Cot’s Contracts projected the Cubs to be about $32 million under that threshold. If the team is good, that means tickets are selling and beer is flowing and Ricketts can be nudged into spending more to support a winner. But I’m guessing the onus will still be on Hoyer, as it was on Theo Epstein, to be “creative.” That’s fine. That’s why Hoyer makes the big bucks himself.


Ricketts also insinuated that he sees success right now as consistent division championships — the Cubs haven’t won the NL Central in a full year since 2017 — and he praised the wild-card Arizona Diamondbacks for winning the pennant on the cheap last year. His lack of “World Series or bust” enthusiasm and a competitive urge to battle teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies for NL dominance is vexing, and this deal doesn’t change that feeling.

But give everyone some credit because this is a very good move for the Cubs in the present, which is where the focus should always be for this team.

They only won 83 games last year, which is part of the reason why Ross is the ex-manager and they spent big ($40 million over five years) for Counsell. Now, it wasn’t Ross’ fault the bullpen was short on pitchers at the end of the season — Hoyer added some relief help in Héctor Neris and Yency Almonte this winter — but Counsell is clearly an upgrade over the first-time manager. You bring in Counsell to win on the margins and they’ll be counting on him to be that guy.

With a healthy farm system in place, the Cubs just might have that foundation for sustained success that Epstein used to harp about. With Bellinger in the middle of the lineup, the Cubs have the present-day lineup to make summer on the North Side something to savor.

And right now, that’s good enough. In fact, it’s pretty great.

GO DEEPERRosenthal: How Cody Bellinger deal could impact Scott Boras' other top free-agent clients

(Top photo of Cody Bellinger: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images)

Cody Bellinger is, once again, a major part of the Cubs' present, if not their future (3)Cody Bellinger is, once again, a major part of the Cubs' present, if not their future (4)

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for The Athletic based in Chicago. He was also the founding editor of The Athletic. Before that, he was a columnist for ESPN and the executive editor of Team Marketing Report. Follow Jon on Twitter @jon_greenberg

Cody Bellinger is, once again, a major part of the Cubs' present, if not their future (2024)
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