There was a bit of a head-scratcher this weekend as Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that Cody Bellinger has yet to receive a single formal offer. Despite its significance, the intel from Nightengale is buried near the bottom of this article about Shohei Ohtani. J.D. Martinez is another player without an offer and Blake Snell is sitting on a six-year, $150 million feeler courtesy of the Yankees.
Team Bellinger appears to be asking for a contract north of $200 million, so it looks like he’ll continue to sit until Scott Boras asks for something more reasonable. The Cubs continue to be mentioned as Bellinger’s likeliest suitor, but that’s based on need and familiarity. At this juncture, I’ll reiterate that I believe he will probably sign for something close to what the Mets gave Brandon Nimmo last year. Boras usually hits his mark, though that seems highly unlikely in this instance.
Jed Hoyer finally turned his attention toward finishing his bullpen by signing Carl Edwards Jr. and Hector Neris over the weekend. Neris agreed to a major league deal, while Edwards Jr. will head to camp as a non-roster invitee. Both should help the Cubs this year, but the veteran relievers come attached to high walk rates.
With the bullpen all but complete, Hoyer is now in a unique and enviable position because he can wait out the market on Bellinger and/or Matt Chapman. The Cubs have a nice combination of veterans and youth at the corners despite some flaws and a few unknowns:
- Patrick Wisdom has elite power but struggles to make contact and strikes out a lot.
- Nick Madrigal has a fantastic hit tool but provides no power.
- Christopher Morel is the best hitter among the third base contenders but he can’t field.
- Michael Busch would be the starter at first base if the season started today but he’s also a question mark with the glove.
- Signing Bellinger would push Busch to DH or utility.
With that in mind, let’s talk about Matt Mervis, who was shortchanged by David Ross in 2023. Mervis should thrive under new manager Craig Counsell if given an opportunity to play. Counsell has a distinct managerial style cut from the Jim Leyland tree. Like Leyland, he gets the most out of younger players by putting them in favorable situations to succeed. Brice Turang, Joey Wiemer, Andruw Monasterio, and Sal Frelick saw significant playing time with the Brewers last year and performed admirably.
That bodes well for Busch, Morel, Mervis, and Pete Crow-Armstrong. Those who have abandoned Mash and PCA should understand that nobody in the organization has given up on either. Hoyer can wait for Bellinger’s market to drop because Mervis and Busch will provide left-handed power while alternating between first base and DH. Mervis is the better fielder, so one should assume Counsell will want to see if the kid can stick. Crow-Armstrong replaces the speed and defense that will be lost if Bellinger signs elsewhere. Morel can alternate at third with Madrigal.
Counsell’s bullpen management is also excellent. Adbert Alzolay enters camp as the incumbent closer, but Neris, Julian Merryweather, and Mark Leiter Jr. will all work in high-leverage situations. If Edwards breaks camp with the Cubs, he gives Counsell a plethora of late-inning options. Daniel Palencia will quickly gain Counsell’s confidence, too. The 2023 Brewers had the second-best bullpen ERA in the MLB, headlined by Devin Williams, Joel Payamps, Abner Uribe, and Hoby Milner. You should feel confident that Counsell will improve Chicago’s bullpen this season.
In the meantime, the Bellinger watch continues. I thought he’d sign sooner, but now it looks like he may still be jobless once pitchers and catchers report. Even though I’ve been tough on Hoyer, he’s positioned himself well by meticulously plugging holes with completely unexpected moves. I still think Bellinger will return, at which point the Cubs should have cost-efficient depth this season.
Cubs News & Notes
- MLB Pipeline dropped its preseason Top 100 Prospects list, and seven Cubs were among the top 73.
- Matt Shaw made a quantum leap from the 2023 rankings, going from No. 96 to No. 54.
- Neris provides veteran leadership, experience, and a championship pedigree to Counsell’s bullpen.
- Considering Neris’ age, diminished velocity, and lack of recent closing experience, he probably was valued appropriately ($) per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. But at first glance, it appeared the right-handed reliever’s one-year, $9 million free-agent agreement was a steal for the Cubs.
- Edwards was a member of Chicago’s 2016 championship team, in case you forgot.
- Busch was mentioned as one of nine intriguing acquisitions that could achieve stardom with their new teams.
- Pitching prospect Mat Peters was suspended for the 2024 season on Friday under the minor league drug program following a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance.
Odds & Sods
ICYMI: 2024 MLB Spring Training Caps Begin to Appear Online https://t.co/2y3Z214ddR
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 27, 2024
- Milwaukee: MLB Pipeline named Jackson Chourio the game’s top outfield prospect.
- Cincinnati: The Reds outpaced expectations last season and nearly made the playoffs, but an underwhelming offense and poor fielding points to some regression this season.
- Pittsburgh: Blogsite Rum Bunter revisited the 2018 trade that sent Chris Archer from the Rays to the Pirates for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz. Pittsburgh has a long history of bad trades, including the ones that sent Aramis Ramirez and Jon Lieber to the Cubs, but the Archer acquisition is probably the worst.
- St. Louis: The Cardinals have reached a point where they feel they’ve got a deeper pool of big league-ready starting pitching options. It may even necessitate some of them, including Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson, converting to the bullpen.
I think we can expect that Shaw will have a better-than-average chance of eventually succeeding as a third baseman. His work ethic is reportedly off the charts.
— Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22) January 28, 2024
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- The Bears have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator.
- The Chiefs and 49ers will meet in Las Vegas in two weeks to play in this year’s Super Bowl.
- Two airlines have jumped on the Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift romance bandwagon with additional flights from Kansas City to Vegas.
- Speaking of flights, it will take something of a miracle to get Swift from Tokyo to Sin City to see the game.
- Starting today, the IRS will begin accepting and processing your 2023 federal income tax returns through April 15. Don’t kill the messenger.
- Friday is Groundhog Day and I will be in Chicago for the Madonna concert. “OK campers, rise and shine. And don’t forget your booties because it’s cold out there.”
They Said It
- “Great relievers are great friends to managers at the back of a game.” – Counsell
- “There’s a lot of ways to skin the bullpen cat, but we do need to focus on it. [The bullpen] was an Achilles heel last year, for sure.” – Hoyer
- “A lot of things stood out [about Shaw]. One was how gifted he was athletically, his ability to move so gracefully and powerfully. Also, his work ethic. He was constantly working, constantly asking questions and trying to learn. He was always a plus-plus defender, and he was our best athlete by far, so we certainly wanted him at shortstop, but he can really play anywhere. And that’s something that’s going to help him get to the big leagues quickly.” – Jim McNamara, Shaw’s coach at Worcester Academy
Monday Walk-Up Song
I’m not a Madonna fan but I’m going because a good friend asked. I wish you could all attend the show with us, but since you can’t, you’re going to get a week of Madonna videos here. Nobody can ever accuse me of being selfish.