The standoff between the Chicago Cubs and Cody Bellinger continues, with just days until we turn the calendar to February. Scott Boras continues to seek in excess of $200 million for the reigning NL Comeback Player of the Year - a price tag that seems unlikely to be paid by any team, with the possible exception of an Angels team that has a history of making illogical high-dollar moves.
Cubs fans - as was demonstrated throughout CubsCon in mid-January - are desperate for a reunion with Bellinger, who seemed to get his career on track in a big way in 2023, with a 134 wRC+ and 4.1 fWAR for Chicago. But Jed Hoyer has made it abundantly clear: his front office isn't going to overextend itself on a guy with the question marks Bellinger comes with.
Cody Bellinger comes with question marks - now we wait to see if Jed Hoyer and Scott Boras can find a middle ground in free agency
Those question marks? Well, really they're twofold: 1) No one is certain that the ghosts of 2020-22 won't come creeping back into the picture. We assume Bellinger is healthy now and injuries were the cause of his rapid decline, but are you willing to bet $200 million on that? 2) Batted ball metrics were very unkind to Bellinger in 2023 - which makes the probability of regression this year very real. So are you willing to pay for the player he was last year, knowing he might not be that guy again?
It's a gamble, regardless of what you think of him or which camp you call in on either question. But the projection models over at Fangraphs almost universally expect him to take a step back in 2024 - with none of them expecting more than a 3.0 fWAR season, and several checking in below that.
Let's, just for argument's sake, put a $6 million value on 1.0 WAR. That works out (assuming Bellinger hits the high end of the models at 3.0 WAR) to $18 million annually. Let's call it seven years on his next deal and you get a seven-year, $126 million deal. Which means we're looking at a gap between what Bellinger's production is expected to look like and what he wants to be paid for of about $100 million.
Now, maybe Bellinger is one of those guys who bucks the trend and defies the models. That would obviously be great for him - and his next team. But Hoyer is remarkably cautious, especially on long-term deals, and he's just not going to go where Scott Boras wants him to with all the red flags around Bellinger, regardless of how badly this team needs left-handed pop and some added star power.