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Bellinger Back in Blue: Why the Cubs' Re-Signing is a Smart Move

Chicago brings back a familiar face after speculation of his 2024 club. PIC: Katie Stratman, USA Today Sports

The Chicago Cubs waited out Cody Bellinger.  Nobody blamed them - there was a bit of uncertainty behind what the remaining four MLB free agents represented by Scott Boras would be demanding and how their contracts would shake out.  But ultimately the Cubs took a bet on Bellinger returning to the North Side, with a three-year, $80 million deal.

There’s plenty of positive qualities in Bellinger’s game, but many are still suspect of his recent struggles at the tail-end of his stint with the Dodgers. Between an abysmal .165 in 2021, and a not-so-much-better .210 in 2022.  Consequently, the Dodgers moved on, and the Cubs took a flier on him.

But in 2023, fortunes changed for Bellinger. He had more power in his swing, got on base more, and earned a Silver Slugger for his 26 home run, 97 RBI season.  It’s safe to say the Bellinger we’d seen in years past was still capable of playing at the level we’d been used to.

Now, back with Chicago on a short-term deal, Bellinger’s return could prove to be a significant boon for the Cubs' championship aspirations. Here's why.

1. Proven Power Threat: Bellinger's 2023 season in Chicago served as a reminder of his talent. He led the team in slugging percentage (.525) and wRC+ (134), showcasing the same raw power that earned him the MVP award in 2019. Even with a few down years in the middle of his career, his all-time numbers speak for themselves: a .260 batting average, 161 home runs, and 449 RBIs.

Of note, Bellinger made several swing improvements that facilitated this return to his power-hitting ways of old over the offseason. Check out Mark DeRosa and Sean Casey breaking down his swing in early 2023.

2. Left-Handed Balance: The Cubs' lineup boasts several talented right-handed hitters like Seiya Suzuki and Dansby Swanson. Bellinger, a left-handed bat, provides much-needed balance and can obviously disrupt opposing pitchers' sequencing. This versatility allows new manager Craig Counsell - who featured at least four prominent lefty bats at any time last year with the Brewers - to create a more dynamic lineup that keeps opposing teams guessing.

3. Defensive Flexibility: Cody Bellinger has experience playing both first base and center field. While the arrival of Michael Busch - former UNC Tar Heel and top prospect with the Dodgers - might solidify first base, Bellinger can provide valuable depth there and potentially mentor Busch, who has been described as one of the most well-rounded offensive prospects in the game. Additionally, Bellinger's presence allows the Cubs to develop top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong at his own pace without rushing him into the starting lineup. Recent reports suggest furthermore that Bellinger in the lineup will push Crow-Armstrong to start the season in AAA to gradually get him ready for the MLB, and not serving as an indictment.

4. Short-Term Commitment: The three-year deal laden with opt-out clauses minimizes risk for the Cubs. If Bellinger rediscovers his MVP form, they'll benefit from his contributions. However, if his struggles continue, they have the flexibility to move on without a long-term financial burden. This may even serve as a guideline for Scott Boras' remaining high-profile clients who remain free agents, such as Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell, who still are not under contract as Spring Training gets underway.

5. Familiarity and Confidence: Bellinger thrived in Chicago during the 2023 season, crediting the environment and coaching staff for revitalizing his career. Returning to a familiar setting with newfound confidence could be the key to unlocking his full potential once again.

While Bellinger's past struggles are undeniable, the Cubs are betting on his talent, versatility, and potential for another solid season to build back to his consistent ways of old. The short-term commitment allows them to manage risk while giving Bellinger the chance to continue his resurgence in Chicago. If he recaptures his former form, this deal could be a game-changer for the Cubs' championship hopes.


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