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With Cody Bellinger, others on the market, are any new faces coming to Cubs spring training?

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 14, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — Even though most current Cubs players have already made their way to Arizona, the cloud of who isn’t there is still hanging over the team’s spring training complex.

And that’s not referring to the late arrivals who will either be there when pitchers and catchers officially report Wednesday or when position players report next week.

Cody Bellinger is one of a number of recognizable names still on the free-agent market as spring camp begins. That includes the likes of Matt Chapman, Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and a host of others who would be impactful moves for the Cubs or any of the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.

The feeling that things could change once those guys sign isn’t lost on the players they could be calling teammates any day now.

“As an individual, it feels like things are picking up,” Nico Hoerner said to small group of reporters Tuesday, “but on the team sense, I think definitely there’s a lot up in the air for us and a lot of teams in baseball right now with the amount of talent that’s still out there. I don’t think it changes the individual work too much, but obviously, things do kind of fall in place once some bigger names get involved.”

Bellinger, Chapman, Snell and Montgomery are all represented by Scott Boras. The high-powered agent has a history of being willing to wait out the market to secure the best deals for his clients, so it’s not a big surprise that Boras’ four biggest names have yet to pick a team. As things stand now, there’s no real clarity on any of their individual futures.

Bellinger himself was already considered one of the best position players available when the offseason began. Now, with the likes of Shohei Ohtani (signed with the Dodgers), Juan Soto (traded to the Yankees) and other contenders for that title finding new homes, Bellinger is left as the top option on the position player side.

Bellinger re-signing with the Cubs is an obvious fit for both camps. He would slide seamlessly back into the middle of the order. He would be an upgrade either in center field or at first base, positions that can still be considered question marks despite the Cubs having top-100 prospects in Pete Crow-Armstrong and Michael Busch at either spot.

There’s a reason Bellinger’s former teammates have all said essentially the same thing when asked about a possible reunion.

He took a one-year contract with the Cubs last season to re-establish his market value after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers following a couple of rough season from 2021-22. His bounce-back 2023 resulted in him being named the National League Comeback Player of the Year, and he earned a 10th-place finish in NL MVP voting.

Wanting Bellinger in the fold would make sense just taking his on-field success last year into account. But after a year of getting to know to know the person behind the player, having him back would be very valuable from an off-the-field perspective, too.

“I’ve definitely kind of given him his space,” Hoerner said. “I just hope that this process is what he wants and he gets what he deserves. He’s been everything you could ask for from a teammate. Watching him go through — I mean, talk about showing up early; last year, he was here from New Year’s on, just so consistent with his work. It was just really satisfying to see a good person just earn such a great spot for themselves. Obviously, I’d love to have him here. That’d be amazing. But I’m just happy for him, too, as a person.”

Hoerner didn’t quite go the lengths of his middle-infield partner Dansby Swanson, who sat on stage at the Cubs Convention last month and said “we gotta re-sign Belli,” eliciting a roar from the large group of fans in the building.

“Different routes, I guess,” Hoerner said with a laugh. “But we both feel the same way.”

Still, it’s clear either a reunion with Bellinger or bringing in any other contributors would be a boost for a Cubs team that just missed the playoffs after a September slide.

The Cubs already have some new faces in the fold. Craig Counsell has taken over as manager. They acquired both Busch and Yency Almonte in a trade with the Dodgers. They signed Shota Imanaga to the rotation and Hector Neris to the bullpen.

Those additions have helped some systems in projecting the Cubs to win around 80-81 games, an improvement from their projections a year ago but also a drop from their 83-win campaign in 2023. And Hoerner believes there are in-house options who can help get the team back to the playoffs for the first time since guys like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were still around.

“I think we have a lot of opportunities to improve from within, and I think that includes a lot of us that were out there a lot last year,” he said. “I feel that a lot of us had solid seasons last year, but a lot of us feel that we have more that we can improve on. It’s a group that definitely has a very high standard, so I feel good about that.”

But the way the roster is built now is probably not how it’ll be built when the season begins. As long as that means the Cubs have added players who can positively impact the group, then it’s something the players would welcome.

“You always want the best version of your team that you can have,” Hoerner said. “Obviously, as a group of players, we’re gonna be confident and make the most of whatever that is, but anything that’s gonna help us win is obviously gonna be a good move.”

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