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Cubs excited to bring back one of their own in Cody Bellinger

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 25, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — Despite falling short of the playoffs last season, Cubs players have constantly talked since about their belief in the group they had.

It remained largely intact entering the offseason. The likes of Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki are still around, providing a solid foundation for a team still searching for its first playoff appearance in a 162-game season since 2018. Prospects like Jordan Wicks, Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario made their debuts in 2023 and should get real opportunities to impact the team in 2024.

Over the winter, they added Shota Imanaga (four years, $53 million) and Héctor Neris (one year, $9 million) via free agency, and they traded for Michael Busch and Yency Almonte from the Dodgers. All of them filled specific needs this ballclub clearly had at the end of the year.

But it always felt like someone was missing — someone who’d performed like the best player on the team for a large part of last season, someone who’d been through the major rollercoaster that was 2023 for the Cubs.

That someone, of course, was Cody Bellinger.

Bellinger signed a one-year, $17.5 million dollar deal before 2023 and had a bounce-back season that earned him the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year honor. He returned to the free-agent market 3 1/2 months ago to cash in, but all offseason, his former Cubs teammates voiced how much they’d love to have Bellinger back in the fold.

Well, they got their wish early Sunday morning, when news broke that the Cubs and Bellinger, 28, had reportedly agreed to reunite on a three-year, $80 million pact (with opt outs after both 2024 and 2025).

“Like we’ve been saying all spring,” Dansby Swanson said, “just the impact that he had on our group last year from a personality standpoint, from a versatility standpoint, and obviously, his ability to produce at a high level really made our team and put ourselves in position to have some success last year. That’s something that we’ve been looking forward to being able to get back.”

In theory, getting a big-name free agent is a good thing. Sure, deals don’t always work out, but inserting a top-tier major league player into a lineup or a pitching staff is at the very least a sign that a front office is willing to invest big money in the roster.

But this isn’t any other free-agent addition to the Cubs players. This is adding back one of their own. This is someone who was a vital part of a team that entered last year still in some ways considered a rebuilding team, that went from 10 games below .500 to back in the playoff race over the summer and that finished only a game back of the last two NL wild card teams.

By re-signing Bellinger, the Cubs are bringing in a free agent who already knows how to function in this environment.

“It definitely feels different,” Nico Hoerner said. “I think last year, just as a season, it took a while just to get to know all the guys, from [Jameson Taillon] and Belli and Dansby. These are guys that are essential for our team, on the field and socially and just in the locker room. All that stuff is so much more set in place already. This kind of lets us I think just focus on the most important things now and get after it.”

“It makes it easy for him to walk in, and everyone knows who he is,” Nick Madrigal said. “We feel so comfortable with him. I feel like we can just kind of carry on with spring training, and there’s no tension in the locker room, there’s nothing we gotta get to meet a new player. It’s someone that was with us fighting all year last year, so we’re able to kind of carry on what we tried last year. So yeah, it’s definitely a great feeling. I know everyone’s looking forward to having him back in here.”

The impact of this signing goes beyond what Bellinger has accomplished and what he could bring the Cubs on the field in 2024.

Ask his teammates, and they’ll tell you how important his off-the-field contributions were to helping the club stick together last year. His laid-back personality, his leading by example, his willingness to help younger players: All of that factored into why everyone — even the team’s top prospect, whose own opportunities could be impacted by Bellinger’s return — hoped he’d walk into that clubhouse at some point this spring.

“You have the captain of this team wanting him back, saying it publicly in front of big fans,” Pete Crow-Armstrong said, “and then you got guys like me, who really responded to the way he carried himself in here, too. He reaches all aspects of this team. Hopefully, he just brings that same energy this year. I have all the faith in the world that he will.”

It became a long, drawn-out free-agent process for Bellinger.

With agent Scott Boras representing him, Bellinger’s camp and the team couldn’t find common ground for months. Though the Cubs had been considered the most logical landing spot for a while now, nothing was guaranteed if the sides couldn’t find a deal that worked for both of them.

But finally, a reunion is happening. The Cubs hadn’t yet made the move official as of Sunday night, but you can bet the players are ready to have their guy back on the field with them as soon as possible.

“I can’t imagine not having him here,” Madrigal said. “I’m glad we don’t have to worry about that for this year. He’s such a huge addition, so I’m looking forward to having him back, and yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

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