Immediate Reaction to Cubs Re-signing Former MVP

Although Spring Training games have been underway for almost a week, free agency questions still loom large. One of those questions was answered in the early morning of Sunday the 25th.

Cody Bellinger and the Cubs agreed on a three-year, $80 million deal. The contract includes opt-outs in each of the first two years. The 28-year-old returns to Wrigley and hopes to build off his impressive bounce-back ’22 season.

The new extension answers the most significant question: Where will Cody Bellinger play in 2024? But the signing coming in at a substantial discount of what was being projected in the early months of free agency creates unfamiliar unease. Why were teams so hesitant to pull the trigger on a former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP? How did the Cubs beat the mighty Scott Boras, and what does this mean for the rest of the ‘Boras Four’?

Chicago Cubs Bring Former MVP Cody Bellinger Back

1. The Cubs Beat Boras

Scott Boras has a stranglehold over the MLB free agency market. The Boras Corporation speaks for 23% of the 2024 MLB Top 100. Three of the top 10 and 15 of the top 51 (Bellinger is ranked 51st) are represented by the 71-year-old.

There is no question of Boras’ ability. He began his illustrious sports career over 40 years ago and has negotiated an unofficial $9 BillionĀ for his clients. Boras has spoken on behalf of legends for nearly half a century, names like Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Stephen Strasburg, Prince Fielder, and practically every big name in the game today.

Boras will be able to spin the inability to land Bellinger a monster deal in a plethora of ways. Bellinger can return to free agency next year due to the opt-outs in his contract. This is a play Boras has run before with players like Beltre, Dallas Keuchel, and Mike Moustakas, getting a ‘bridge’ deal before landing the bigger fish. This is a solid play but shouldn’t be necessary for someone coming off a top-10 finish in MVP voting and a Silver Slugger just one season ago.

Bellinger came to Chicago on a one-year $17.5 million ‘prove it’ deal, and now he has to keep proving what he already proved in 2023.

A 28-year-old coming into free agency with a .307/.356/.525 slash line and an impressive resume are the blueprints for a mega-deal, which was predicted at the beginning of free agency. MLBTradeRumors.com thought teams like the Giants or the Yankees would be all in on Bellinger, anticipating a 12-year $260+ million deal. With nine figures like that being thrown around, the only logical assumption to make is Boras overplayed his hand, and the Cubs called his bluff. Once the Yankees landed Juan Soto and the Giants brought over Korean superstar Jung-Hoo Lee, Chicago was able to wait out Boras’s ridiculous demands.

2. Bellinger’s Insurance Policy

Although Bellinger wasn’t able to land a decade-long deal, the contract is structured perfectly for the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year. For the next two years, Bellinger will be bringing in $30 million a year with the potential to return to the free-agent market. If he can recreate what he has proven in ’17, ’19, and ’23, that nine-figure deal will make a little more sense to the front office.

But if Bellinger regresses as he did after that magical ’19 MVP season, he will still bring in $80 million over three years. The last three years of Bellinger’s time on the Dodgers were abysmal. ’20, ’21, and ’22 were riddled with odd injuries and inconsistent play at the Chavez Ravine.

In those dreadful three years, Bellinger hit a measly .207 with a subpar 76 OPS+. When combined, his home run total (41) during his MVP hangover was six shy of what he hit during his MVP campaign (47).

If Bellinger falls back into that shell of what he can be, he has a large safety net to fall back on, but if he can build off the foundation he laid in ’23, Bellinger could have a comically large check soon.

3. Why Were Teams Hesitant to Pull the Trigger?

Bellinger has proven what he can do, but with such a monumental gap between successful seasons, the reluctance from front offices around the league is understandable. After Bellinger exploded onto the scene in ’17, the sophomore slump caught hold of him in ’18. He blew us all out of the water in ’19 before falling off a cliff of regression until climbing out in ’23.

The pattern tells us Bellinger is due for another subpar season, which could be another reason teams were holding out. They don’t know exactly what they are paying for, and agreeing to an incredibly long-term deal with credible worry about his consistency is clearly not a successful business plan.

Another reason floating around among analytic nerds is Bellinger’s inability to hit the ball hard last season. In ’23, Bellinger ranked in the 88th Percentile in Batting Run Value on BaseballSavant. That’s really good! That tells us he is among the most valuable bats a team can have in their lineup. Contrarily, he sits very low in Average Exit Velo (22nd Percentile), Barrel% (27th Percentile), and Hard-Hit% (10th Percentile), and this is where the concern comes into the conversation. Hitting the ball hard isn’t the only aspect of hitting, but it is a good way to filter the good hitters from great hitters.

It’s one thing to be able to make contact and create hits on bad pitches like Bellinger does. But the ability to smack the ball no matter where it comes in is an entirely different skill. Comparing another lefty bat, Rafael Devers, who sits in the high 80s or 90s in the aforementioned categories, is like night and day. Devers is one of our generation’s best bad ball hitters regarding what he can do with balls that have no business being hit. Bellinger can make contact with these balls but can’t put any ‘oomph’ behind them.

Average Exit Velo, Barrel%, Hard-Hit%, and xwOBA are all stats to look at when trying to predict reliability, and Bellinger doesn’t fare well, which could have been a big sign for teams to stay away.

4. Fear for the Rest of the Boras Four

Bellinger isn’t the only free agent that Boras potentially overplayed his hand with. Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Matt Chapman, and, on behalf of excellent marketing, JD Martinez have been labeled the Boras Four as they are all searching for massive contracts in ’24.

From a completely outside perspective, it seems as if Bellinger’s deal gives the ball clubs more leverage. Time is on the side of the organization. They see the players dying to get back on the field and will be able to lower the price as Opening Day nears.

All four may be in for similar deals to Bellinger and Carlos Correa: betting on themselves for another productive season and another chance to test the free agency market.

Blake Snell is a reigning Cy Young, Jordan Montgomery made himself a postseason hero, JD Martinez has been Mr. Reliable, and Matt Chapman is one of the best defenders in baseball. Still, all of their asking prices are through the roof.

For the first time in a while, the MLB owners beat Scott Boras and the mighty Boras Corp in an intense free agency battle that has still not wrapped up.

Main Image: Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

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