When Scott Boras, the well-known sports agent, has a flurry of puns ready to describe one of his free-agent clients, it usually signals a significant player on the market. This time, it’s Cody Bellinger, the 28-year-old left-handed slugger who has grabbed the spotlight.
According to Boras, Bellinger is the “belle of the ball” this offseason, coming off an outstanding season with the Chicago Cubs, where he earned the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award and a Silver Slugger. Bellinger signed a one-year, $17.5 million contract with the Cubs before the 2023 season and is now poised to cash in.
However, Boras’ history with big-name clients suggests that Bellinger’s free agency might not be resolved quickly. Boras is known for holding out for the right offer, sometimes extending negotiations well into February or March.
So, who will ultimately land Bellinger?
Several left-handed power hitters have already found new homes or signed lucrative contracts this offseason. The New York Yankees acquired Juan Soto in a blockbuster trade with the San Diego Padres, addressing a significant need. The Los Angeles Dodgers inked Shohei Ohtani to a massive $700 million deal, securing the top free agent on the market. The San Francisco Giants made a significant move by signing Korea Baseball Organization MVP Jung Hoo Lee.
This leaves the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cubs, both of whom missed out on Ohtani, as potential suitors for Bellinger. Boras has been making his pitch to teams, drawing parallels between Bellinger and two of his other clients, Corey Seager and Bryce Harper, who have enjoyed success after signing big contracts in their late twenties.
Bellinger’s career trajectory resembles that of Kris Bryant, the former Cubs third baseman who won an MVP at 24 but battled injuries before signing a seven-year, $182 million deal with the Colorado Rockies at 29. However, Bellinger is hitting free agency a year younger and from the more desirable left side of the plate, making him an appealing target.
Boras believes that concerns about Bellinger’s performance based on his average exit velocity (87.9 mph) should be dismissed. Bellinger intentionally adjusted his swing with two strikes, resulting in softer contact. Despite this, he had the second-highest batting average (.279) in that situation, behind only Luis Arraez of the Miami Marlins.
While Boras hasn’t explicitly stated the price he’s seeking for Bellinger, it’s believed to be well over $200 million. Negotiations are expected to continue for an extended period, with Boras holding firm on his initial demands.
If Bellinger is open to playing in Toronto, the Blue Jays could have an advantage over the Cubs. The Blue Jays have been playoff contenders for the past two years and are actively looking to complete their roster. On the other hand, the Cubs are still in a rebuilding phase and might not be willing to overextend themselves for a single player.
One factor in play is the relationship between Boras and team owners. Boras has a history of directly communicating with owners to facilitate deals. However, Boras and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts don’t have that type of relationship, which could affect negotiations.
In the end, whether Bellinger ends up with the Blue Jays or Cubs, his decision could have a significant impact on both teams’ lineups. The Cubs will need to make a compelling case or be prepared for a significant loss if they want to retain Bellinger, as Boras aptly put it, “The Cubs got a full Belly [last season]. They’re going to have to loosen their belts to keep Bellinger.”