Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Cody Bellinger sends a clear message in return to Cubs

2 months agoTony Andracki

St Notebook Sloan Image

MESA, Ariz. — For a couple of days, Jed Hoyer has had a reprieve:

Dansby Swanson has not been blowing up his phone.

The Cubs star shortstop has made no secret about the fact that he wanted the front office to bring back Cody Bellinger. But he wasn’t alone. Every corner of the roster was clamoring for the return of the left-handed slugger who earned MVP votes in his debut season in Chicago and left a special mark in the clubhouse and with the fanbase.

“I haven’t heard from Dansby since Saturday night [when the Bellinger news broke], so it’s been kind of nice,” Hoyer joked. “It means a lot, honestly. The fact that Cody came in last year and in one year, endeared himself to his teammates that much and to the fans that much I think is really important and for obvious reasons.

“I mean, the way he played was fantastic, but also how he carried himself on the field, in the clubhouse. So it didn’t surprise me that there was so much desire to bring him back. I think they wanted to bring back the player and I think they wanted to bring back the person and that’s wonderful.”

Bellinger spent the winter patiently waiting out the process and enjoying time at home with his wife and two young daughters. On Wednesday at the Nike Performance Center, he was able to soak in the moment with his family, fully comfortable with the unconventional contract that will keep him in Cubbie blue throughout at least the 2024 season.

While Bellinger kept himself in shape and awaited his future, he took special note of how Swanson and the rest of the Cubs players lobbied hard for a reunion.

“It was amazing,” Bellinger said. “The constant support from the teammates. Everyone knew how great of a time I had last year and how just a great clubhouse that we had. The positive words they were bringing this past offseason was great to hear and super excited to get back here with them.”

[WATCH: Bellinger’s (re)introductory press conference]

As Bellinger took batting practice and jogged around the outfield in an empty Sloan Park, Wednesday felt eerily similar to a day almost exactly 8 years earlier.

Theo Epstein and Hoyer somehow kept the rumor mill at bay and were able to bring a special guest to the backfields at the Cubs complex to surprise the rest of the team: Dexter Fowler.

Fowler became a big part of the Cubs team in 2015 before hitting free agency. His teammates openly called for his return and when he finally rejoined the team in the middle of Spring Training, there was a major celebration stemming from a feeling of unfinished business.

We all know what happened later that year for the 2016 Cubs and while there is certainly no guarantee 2024 will mirror that special fall, this team has the same feeling of unfinished business.

And in many ways, Bellinger serves as the final — and maybe most important — piece along that journey.

The Cubs finished a single game out of the playoffs last season, compiling an 83-79 record. But they came to camp genuinely believing they can get over the hump and Bellinger’s return only strengthens that conviction.

“I mean, we were so close last year, really got banged up towards the end and fought ’til the very end,” Bellinger said. “We got so close and for me to come back here with almost the same team – to experience playoffs in Chicago is something that I want to do and it’s something that I want to experience.

“It’s a big part of the reason why I did want to come back here. I’m glad it all worked out.”

Bellinger’s contract is unconventional in the sense that he reportedly has opt-outs after 2024 and 2025. So he could remain in Chicago for the next 3 years and earn the full $80 million or he could wind up on the free agent market going through this same song and dance again as early as this November.

Bellinger and his agent, Scott Boras, acknowledged Wednesday that the goal was clearly to get a long-term megadeal in place for the star outfielder/first baseman.

But with offers from other teams not matching that ultimate goal, Hoyer’s front office and Boras’ team worked out a middle ground that leaves both sides happy.

“I didn’t hide the fact internally that I did want to come back here,” Bellinger said. “I love Wrigley Field, I love the fans. Me and my family enjoy Chicago.

“When it was coming towards the end and everything was coming to light a little bit, this was definitely something I wanted and both sides agreed on. Super happy that it worked out the way it did.”


Canario’s big day

Alexander Canario provided the highlights during Wednesday’s 6-1 win over the Brewers in Cactus League play.

The young outfielder threw out a runner at home plate in the 1st inning:

And then in the 4th, he ripped a laser up the middle to drive home a run:

Canario returned from devastating ankle and shoulder injuries suffered in Winter Ball during the 2022-23 offseason. He playd 53 games last year in the Cubs minor league system, clubbing 9 homers with an .844 OPS.

He made his big league debut in September, appearing in 6 games that included a grand slam and 6 RBI.

The 23-year-old is in the outfield mix for Opening Day, but with Bellinger back in the mix, both Canario and Crow-Armstrong could wind up in the Triple-A outfield to start the year.

Mike Tauchman figures to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder while Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ lock down the corner spots.

Youth movement

The Cubs have plenty of young players who will likely impact their big-league roster throughout the 2024 season.

Players like Crow-Armstrong, Jordan Wicks or Ben Brown.

And then there’s another wave after that – of younger players who are a bit further behind.

Matt Shaw is one of those players – the Cubs’ 1st-round pick from last summer. Shaw has seen a lot of playing time already this spring and has drawn praise from manager Craig Counsell, along with his fellow infield prospect James Triantos.

“Matt’s one of those kids just when he steps into the box, like, he’s a hitter,” Counsell said Wednesday morning. “It sticks out. It’s fun to watch. I thought James Triantos stepped in the box [Tuesday] and gave the same impression.”

Triantos had a 2-run single and Shaw smacked a 2-run triple in the 8th inning of Tuesday’s tie against the Reds. Shaw also has a double this spring and during Wednesday’s win, he walked and scored.

Shaw, 22, played only 38 games last season in the Cubs system but already reached Double-A. He dominated during his time in the minors to the tune of a .357/.400/.618 slash line (1.018 OPS) with 8 homers and 15 stolen bases.

With exciting young talent moving up through the system, the Cubs are hopeful they have a bright future ahead with several waves of prospects coming.

“It’s a good feeling to see guys like that,” Counsell said. “Matt’s, what, [170] plate appearances in to professional baseball? So lots of big learning curves still and he knows he’s got stuff that he can do better. But he’s off to a really good start and looks the way you want hitters to look.”

Next Up

The Cubs take on the Rockies at Sloan Park at 2 p.m. on Marquee Sports Network. Drew Smyly will take the ball with Justin Steele slated to make his 2024 Cactus League debut Friday.

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