Column: All’s well that ends well for Chicago Cubs star Cody Bellinger after an offseason of uncertainty

MESA, Ariz. — Cody Bellinger stood in the Chicago Cubs complex Wednesday morning and introduced himself as if he were a new player meeting his teammates for the first time.

Of course, no introductions were needed for the veteran center fielder and first baseman who helped lead the Cubs back from the dead and into a playoff race last summer, only to suffer a late-season collapse that preceded Bellinger declining a $25 million mutual option to enter free agency.

It seemed like Bellinger was one-and-done as a Cub, but as the offseason wore on and he remained unsigned, shortstop Dansby Swanson kept texting President Jed Hoyer to ask for a reunion and Cubs fans began clamoring for a Belli reboot.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts told reporters on Feb. 19 they were still waiting for agent Scott Boras to get “serious” about discussions, and a three-year, $80 million deal with opt-outs in 2024 and ’25 was agreed to last Saturday.

Bellinger said Wednesday he was “craving baseball” and “beyond excited to get going” in spring training. He continued working out with a personal trainer all winter, did some hitting off his dad, former major league player Clay Bellinger, and remained patient as he enjoyed time with his wife and two young daughters.

“I trusted the process,” he said. “I was in constant communication with Scott over here and understanding what was going on. Super-aware of the situation and constant support from my wife. I was just with my family, and whenever I was ready (to sign), I wanted to be ready (to play). And I feel good right now.”

Boras said he was not disappointed Bellinger didn’t get the long-term contract he was seeking and that he told Bellinger “the likelihood of you getting what players with your skills set normally get is probably not going to be there, so you have to have another optimal plan.”

That meant a shorter length deal, with opt-outs. Hoyer said the last 5-7 days before the deal was done they “targeted a deal that made sense for both sides, and at that point we did start making offers and talking more often and getting serious.”

Boras said “close to 15 different teams” called him about Bellinger, but his client desired a return to the Cubs. Asked if any team offered more than a three-year deal, Boras joked “when I go to a wedding, I never talk about the bridesmaids.”

Asked if got the deal that he desired last November, Bellinger let Boras answer for him.

Boras compared free agency to a turkey thermometer, saying you have to “see what the temperature is and evaluate it.” After they proposed a short-term “flex deal” with multiple opt-outs to the Cubs, all that was needed was a dollar figure.

The Cubs avoided the luxury tax by paying Bellinger $30 million in ’24 and ’25, after Ricketts made note last week that “you can only spend every dollar once,” meaning don’t go over the $237 million threshold. That accounts for a relatively measly $5 million raise over what Bellinger would’ve gotten had he picked up the option for ’24.

In the end, it didn’t lead to one of those nine-figure contracts that most superstars get these days, as the Cubs simply waited until spring training started with the free-agent market not developing.

The widespread narrative that the Cubs (namely Hoyer) won and Boras lost was disputed by the agent when I asked him about it after the news conference.

“If you don’t think Cody Bellinger had choices that were different than this …” Boras replied. “The fact of the matter is we did a contract, in collaboration with Cody and his desires, a contract that we knew was most important to us — that is the flexibility and the (average annual value).”

Photos: An inside look at Cubs spring training

Boras reiterated that he has “yet to sign a player’s check,” meaning he gave Bellinger the options and let him decide. Bellinger said he loved Wrigley Field and the fans, and “when it was coming toward the end and everything was coming to light a little bit, this was definitely something I wanted and both sides agreed on.

“I’m super happy it worked out the way it did.”

Around baseball, however, the feeling of schadenfreude over Boras not getting what he wanted was palpable. Boras has been a lightning rod for years because of his high profile, his success in getting megadeals and his zest for media attention, which hasn’t endeared him to his fellow agents or baseball executives.

“Remember I played pro baseball,” he said, referring to his minor-league career. “There’s a big difference when you’ve played, and also when you’re a lawyer and you’re a former ballplayer, you kind of give the players a perspective other agents don’t give them. I don’t know. But I wore that Cub uniform (in the minors).”

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote there were no second acts in American lives, but Bellinger, a former MVP, clearly proved him wrong, winning Comeback Player of the Year with the Cubs in 2023 after being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers following two subpar seasons marred by shoulder and ankle injuries.

“The impressive thing is he has reached such heights in the game, right? He’d reached the top of the mountain,” manager Craig Counsell said. “For those guys we say ‘Just keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it,’ like never leave the top of the mountain.

“It’s super hard. He never gave that up. Everybody knew that was coming, and he’s a young man still, and has a ton of baseball left. I don’t think anyone ever questioned whether he would stop going for it and stop the fight. It was coming, and the Cubs got the benefit of it.”

Swanson said he was always “hopeful and optimistic” Bellinger would return.

“This is something we all kind of asked for, maybe me more specifically throughout the offseason,” he said, referring to his constant lobbying of Hoyer.

“I don’t text or call him every day,” Swanson said with a grin. “I’m a little more kind than that.”

Swanson saw Bellinger at a birthday party in the Valley last Saturday for one of former teammate Freddie Freeman’s children, and said Bellinger was “giving me a hard time just about life.” When Swanson got back home, Bellinger called him to tell him the deal was agreed upon.

“I got out of bed, saw who was FaceTiming me and hung up on him, didn’t even look,” Swanson said. “Clicked it off and was like ‘What does he want?’ The next morning before I had woken up, he called me again and then I answered and he told me (he signed). I was like, ‘Should’ve answered last night.’”

Bellinger laughed Wednesday when reporters informed him Swanson ignored his call. He assumed Swanson was asleep.

It felt like a do-over in Cubs camp, two weeks after it opened. Bellinger entered his first workout to “Sirius,” the Alan Parsons Project song made famous as the introduction to the Chicago Bulls’ lineup during their reign in the 1990s.

Now Bellinger gets a chance to help rewrite the script from ’23, with many of the same players, and a new manager in Counsell.

“He’s amazing,” Bellinger said of Counsell. “Today was my first day with him. Just a guy you want to play for and you’re going to go to battle with every day.”

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Counsell said he wouldn’t push Bellinger to get ready, pointing to the long spring training schedule and a month’s worth of Cactus League games remaining.

“I don’t see any reason to go quickly here,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of time. There will be a ramp-up here. I don’t expect him (playing) in a game this week.”

Bellinger said after the news conference he’d be ready to play in one week, but added he didn’t know what Counsell’s plan was for him.

“So don’t hold me to that,” he said with a laugh.

In the end, the Cubs had their leader back, and a middle-of-the-order hitter and Gold Glove-caliber defender. And Cubs fans got their wish to see a fan favorite return, at least for one more year and possibly longer.

“It didn’t surprise me that there was so much desire to bring him back,” Hoyer said. “But I think they wanted to bring back the player, and they wanted to bring back the person, and that’s wonderful.”