We're about to turn the calendar to February and, still, two of the top free agent position players (not to mention the likes of Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery on the pitching side of things) remain unsigned. In need of more firepower in the lineup, the Chicago Cubs have been connected to both Chapman and Bellinger (and in a dream scenario, they'd sign both) - and the fit is obvious for either guy.
Bellinger, who returned to form in a big way in 2023 on a one-year pillow deal with the Cubs, gives the team a major middle-of-the-order presence and a multi-position safety net under top prospects Michael Busch and Pete Crown Armstrong at first and in center, respectively. A Chapman signing would give Chicago the best infield defense in baseball, pairing him with the likes of Gold Glovers Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson.
I dug into how projection models forecast Bellinger heading into 2024 over the weekend and with Justin Turner signing in Toronto, potentially making them less likely to reunite with Chapman, it seemed like as good a time as any to look at how the two stack up projections-wise.
On the whole, Chapman is expected to be slightly more valuable than Bellinger this season. The two make for a fascinating collision of data sets in free agency, with Bellinger wildly outperforming his batted ball metrics and Chapman's Statcast page dripping red without the results to show - and we'll soon see how front offices feel about both players moving forward.
Projections give a slight edge to Matt Chapman over Cody Bellinger
Steamer has Bellinger at 2.4 fWAR and Chapman at 2.6. ZiPS has Chapman at 4.0 fWAR, with Bellinger at 2.8. You can take a look at all the various models for yourself over at Fangraphs (see here for Chapman and here for Bellinger) - but really, this is going to come down to dollars and length of contract.
Bellinger is three years younger than Chapman, giving him a chance to cash in on a long-term deal that should outpace what the Platinum Glove third baseman winds up getting. But if you can get Chapman on a shorter deal and avoid the risk that comes with contracts that span the better part of a decade, at least in the short term, it looks like you could be getting roughly equal production.
Chapman is always going to bring the bulk of his value with his glove - but he's certainly no slouch at the plate, especially if his batted ball numbers are to be believed. Can the glove stick with him heading deeper into his 30s? Bellinger, well, he's a former Rookie of the Year and MVP. But he's also got a three-year stretch where he was near-unplayable because of how poorly he performed.
The Scott Boras show seems likely to continue well into February and perhaps even into spring training, with just two weeks until pitchers and catchers report. For Cubs fans, that means the waiting game will continue, with Jed Hoyer still needing to add an impact player or two to the lineup before Opening Day.