Quite a few eyebrows were cocked over the weekend in response to Bob Nightengale’s report that Cody Bellinger has yet to receive a formal contract offer, but that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. The key here is that “formal” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Discussions have taken place and teams are aware of the number(s) being sought by Bellinger and Scott Boras, it’s just obvious that the asking price has remained too high to merit a real proposal.
Though not nearly as scandalous as the idea that Kris Bryant turned down an offer from the Cubs, there are some similarities here in terms of player representation and the idea that the figure in question may be “well north of $200 million.” That’s what Bryant reportedly spurned from the Cubs, a concept that shocked him when he heard about it while playing golf with his dad in Las Vegas.
Not only did the contract structure likely feature a guarantee of much less than $200 million with incentives and options that may have pushed it higher, but the deal never even made it to Bryant. Whether the Cubs actually extended what would have been a binding offer if accepted or were simply spitballing the potential framework of an extension, it’s important to understand how Boras does business.
In addition to getting his clients as much money as possible, the super-agent is willing and able to take full control of negotiations. While players certainly have input and can direct him to the extent they’d like, a big part of hiring Team Boras is knowing that you can basically treat your free agency like an Uber or Lyft and let someone else handle the driving.
I would also like to note here that despite his public image, Boras is beloved by clients and employees alike. Though I don’t know him personally, I’ve been told by those who do that he’s very generous, thoughtful, kind, and compassionate. He’s also a very shrewd negotiator who typically does a great job of playing the media for leverage.
So when we hear that there have been no formal offers to Bellinger, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any contract talks at all. As relayed previously when discussing this same topic, a source with knowledge of the situation has indicated that the Cubs have a number they’re simply unwilling to budge from. Boras clearly has his own goal, and it’s so much larger than what the Cubs and other teams are willing to match that the situation remains at a stalemate.
The trouble with formalizing an offer is that you can end up creating a bit of contention and ending negotiations before they’ve even begun. Say you’re trying to build a home and the cost of lumber shot up, leaving you with only half of what you need. Rather than forging ahead and running the risk of having a half-framed house just sitting there indefinitely, it’s best to wait until you can acquire the remaining materials. On the other hand, some design changes may be necessary to build with less than initially projected.
Setting aside the clunkiness of that analogy, the Cubs’ value-based assessment model has produced a number for Bellinger’s services that they know isn’t going to work for him right now. Even if Jed Hoyer is willing to stretch beyond that figure, which he did with Dansby Swanson and has indicated he can do again, he’s not ready to get close enough to engage Boras in meaningful conversation.
At the risk of being redundant, I’d guess the Cubs are at around six years and $125-135 million with a stretch target of maybe $150-160 million over seven. Boras, on the other hand, probably isn’t going to pick up the phone for less than eight years and $200 million. Those terms could wiggle a bit more as the calendar flips to February, and perhaps again if spring training opens and Bellinger is still without a team.
It’s also entirely possible that I’m way off with my guesses, though the fact that no team has made a real play for Bellinger yet is telling when it comes to the ask. At this point, I just want something to happen so I can finally move on from what has been one of the more frustratingly inconclusive stories I’ve been compelled to cover.