Like traffic on the Dan Ryan when construction has it down to two lanes, this sluggish free agency period has left me with two choices: Be patient and read tea leaves, or punch myself in the face. And while I know a lot of you would much prefer I do the latter, it’s less painful to keep looking around for signs of what might happen. The margin is growing slimmer by the day, though, so my transition to Edward Norton in Fight Club will come soon enough.
That could hinge on what happens with Cody Bellinger, whose market is moving slower than Fat Elvis’s bowels. A protracted courtship was expected from the jump because agent Scott Boras has a reputation for such things, particularly when he’s pitching the consensus No. 2 free agent in this year’s class. But what’s weird about Bellinger’s situation is the conflict between his stature and his suitors.
While his defensive versatility is a selling point, it’s best for his overall value to consider him a center fielder. In that regard, he’s head and shoulders above his peers. It’s Bellinger, then 50 feet of crap, and then there’s Michael A. Taylor. Okay, that’s just mean. But when Taylor is the second name on a list that unironically includes Aaron Hicks and Travis Jankowski, well, what are we even doing?
Pivoting from blatant rudeness, it’s pretty clear there aren’t any viable fallbacks for teams at this point. The problem for Bellinger is that there simply aren’t many teams in dire need of outfield help. His market appears to be limited to the Cubs, Giants, and Blue Jays, none of whom have been willing to come close to his supposed $200 million asking price. Pretty much everyone believes the Cubs are the favorites to sign Bellinger, yet here we sit.
Bringing him back at that price, particularly for a duration of eight or more years, would be an egregious mistake in my humble opinion. The same is true for failing to sign him at all. So what is Jed Hoyer to do? Feels like he’s down to Belli-or-bust at this point, with the “bust” option being a youth movement predicated on 95th-percentile production from just about everyone. Might not be smart, but it could be fun.
Regardless of what happens with Bellinger, the Cubs could use another high-velo arm in the bullpen to provide a little depth alongside Adbert Alzolay and Julian Merryweather. Ryne Stanek has come up more than once around these parts and he’s on Hoyer’s radar, but this could be like a Rhys Hoskins situation in which the Cubs are looking for minimal commitment and Stanek is targeting a multiyear guarantee. The Mets are reportedly interested in him and we know they’re more than willing to overpay for dudes, so I’m not particularly bullish on this possibility.
It doesn’t appear as though Hoyer will extend any multiyear offers to relievers, particularly with so little flexibility in the arm barn already. A more likely scenario is that he’ll look to backfill any openings due to injury or poor performance with internal options, whether that’s Ben Brown and Cade Horton or someone from the legion of vets he added on minor-league deals.
Speaking of which, the Marlins may have saved the Cubs a few hundred thousand dollars. Miami just agreed to a minors deal with Trey Mancini, so they’ll owe him a prorated portion of the MLB minimum for whatever time he spends on the active roster. The Cubs are on the hook for $7 million this year, a figure that feels much larger in light of their inactivity at first base/DH than it should. Maybe that’s just me.
Then again, trading for Michael Busch was a big swing and Christopher Morel could put up some really strong numbers with a full season of plate appearances. I still believe Matt Mervis can carve out a role as well, and it’s clear the Cubs believe Craig Counsell will be better at developing young players than David Ross was. Not that I’m saying they should be leaning into that too heavily, of course.
This whole offseason will look a lot different if Hoyer finds a way to bring Bellinger back into the fold, and I’m among those who can envision a Dexter Fowler-like return after the start of spring training. Bellinger does live in Phoenix, after all, so Hoyer can save money on a plane ticket should it come to that.