Looking to re-establish his once sky-high value after several injury-plagued seasons to close out the Dodgers chapter of his career, Cody Bellinger inked a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the Cubs this offseason. The early returns have been everything the front office could have wished for and more, with the former MVP putting up a 141 OPS+ entering Friday’s series opener against the Twins.
This week, the possibility of Bellinger staying in Chicago post-2023 took center stage, with Cubs GM Carter Hawkins leaving the door open on such a scenario. I still think it’s a long-shot that the Gold Glove outfielder calls Wrigley Field home past this year, but there are a few scenarios that make it more likely.
3 – A trade involving one of the team’s top outfield prospects
According to MLB Pipeline, the top 3 Chicago Cubs prospects are all outfielders in Pete Crow-Armstrong (1), Kevin Alcantara (2) and Brennen Davis (3). That’s not the end of the organizational outfield depth by any means, but it demonstrates how loaded the Cubs are when looking at the long-term outfield picture.
Pair that with the fact Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ are both under team control through 2026 and it’s hard to see how giving Bellinger a lengthy, high-dollar deal makes sense for the Cubs right now. He won’t come cheap given his age and resurgence early on in the year and there’s no chance a Boras client takes any sort of discount in a weak free agent market.
All that being said, if the Cubs believe they’ll need to dip into that outfield prospect depth to address another area on the roster, such as the bullpen, locking Bellinger up might make a little more sense. After all, it’s not set in stone he’d need to play center field every day; he has experience at first base and you can keep his bat in the lineup via the DH spot, too.
2 – Matt Mervis fails to adjust to MLB pitching by the end of 2023
Given how elite his defense is in center field, you can forgive any Cubs fans who aren’t aware that Bellinger is more than capable of playing first base, as well. Knowing that is important when we look at a potential second avenue to an extension making sense for Chicago.
Last weekend, we got the highly-anticipated big league debut of first base prospect Matt Mervis. He’s struggled in his first week, slashing just .190/.227/.190 – good for a 17 OPS+ (83 percent below being a league average hitter). Still, it’s been just that – a week – and there’s no reason to write him off given how seamlessly he dissected every level of the minors in the last two years.
But let’s say it’s August and Mervis still isn’t hitting. Are you then accepting Trey Mancini as your everyday first baseman heading into 2024? (This also assumes the Eric Hosmer experiment will have reached its end by this point; because if it hasn’t and he starts next year as the starting first baseman, we’ve got a problem).
No. The Cubs’ window, in all likelihood, really opens up in the next two years. Locking up Bellinger to be your everyday first baseman/DH and keeping his powerful bat in the lineup, while handing center field duties to someone like Crow-Armstrong lengthens this lineup dramatically, without sacrificing the top-shelf defense in the outfield.
1 – Seiya Suzuki fails to find his power stroke in his sophomore campaign
After missing spring training with an oblique injury, Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki still hasn’t settled in at the plate – although his two-hit effort on Wednesday that included a double was a promising sign.
On the year, he’s batting just .264/.350/.363 with that slugging percentage really jumping out as a problem who spent the offseason bulking up in hopes of bringing more consistency and power to the lineup in 2024. Inked to a five-year, $85 million deal that runs through 2026, Suzuki has to drive the ball for extra bases if the Cubs want to contend. It’s as simple as that.
We haven’t seen it yet, at least not in the first 100+ plate appearances of the season. He ranks in the bottom 12 percent of the league in barrel rate and checks in at the 30th percentile in xSLG, troubling signs for the 28-year-old. Odds are, with time and more reps, things start trending in the right direction.
But if by the end of his second year in the league, Suzuki hasn’t put together a lengthy stretch where he blends consistency and power, the Cubs can’t head into 2024 betting heavily on him again. They desperately need power in this lineup and Bellinger offers not only that, but plus baserunning and glovework – making him a multi-faceted threat who could anchor any team’s lineup for years to come.