Opinion: Cubs' Cody Bellinger contract a strong validation of Hoyer's approach

Opinion: Cubs' Cody Bellinger contract a strong validation of Hoyer's approach originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

In the end, a reunion between the Chicago Cubs and outfielder Cody Bellinger felt too inevitable to pass up, and the two sides have finally come to an agreement according to multiple reports.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan had the news in the wee hours of Sunday morning, reporting that Bellinger had agreed to a three-year, $80 million deal to return to the North Siders as they try to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

The contract also features two opt-outs, but the deal itself represents a significant victory for the vision of President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer and General Manager Carter Hawkins.

After all, Hoyer has made it abundantly clear over the years that he is going to prioritize “intelligent spending” over breaking the bank at every single opportunity, and the Bellinger case was a prime example. Many preseason predictions had Bellinger raking in over $200 million, and some even went so far as to say he’d be the highest paid non-Shohei Ohtani player in this year’s free agent class.

Quickly though, it became apparent that the Cubs held more cards than perhaps many had realized. The New York Yankees went out and acquired Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo via trade. The Toronto Blue Jays clamped their wallets shut after being spurned by Ohtani. The San Francisco Giants went in multiple other directions, signing Jung Hoo Lee early in free agency and then adding Jorge Soler just before spring training began.

Even the Texas Rangers made it clear that their offseason spending wouldn’t mirror what they had done in previous seasons, leaving the Cubs as the runaway favorite to land Bellinger’s services.

The Cubs also recognize how strong their farm system is, and while being cognizant of how skilled Bellinger is and how well he fits at multiple positions, the team knew that they had to make sure there was room in the inn for their talented prospects.

After all, how can a team that is ready to roll out players like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Matt Shaw and to a lesser extent Michael Busch and Moises Ballesteros block out a position with a six or seven-year contract?

Still, no player is ever a guarantee in this game, and the Cubs recognized that in order to be competitive in 2024 for the National League Central that they would have to add another piece, and that’s where the “spending” portion of Hoyer’s credo ultimately came into play.

According to Passan, Bellinger will receive opt-outs after each of the first two years of the deal, but there are significant incentives for him to stay if he should choose to. He will make $30 million in each of the first two seasons, allowing him to become the team’s highest-paid player should he opt in for the second season.

That amount pushes the Cubs close to the league’s luxury tax threshold but doesn’t put them over it, meaning that they were able to leverage their deep checkbooks while not being on the hook for a slew of fees. That is a win-win for the organization’s planning, allowing them to improve their competitive standing without risking their future financial health.

It should also not be lost that this is a deal that ultimately can benefit Bellinger too. No, it isn’t the long-term security that he sought, but at just 28 years of age, he still has a huge opportunity to have another strong season and then to test the free agent market again when more teams may end up having money to spend.

After all, the Yankees are only guaranteed to have Soto for one season. The Seattle Mariners may decide that they need an additional piece to go up against the Houston Astros and the Rangers. The St. Louis Cardinals could seek out options if they have a down 2024.

All of those things are part of the calculus for both Bellinger and for the Cubs, and while the road to the reunion was a bumpy one, it ultimately made sense for all sides, and the contract is reflective of a shared understanding of the realities of the market.

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