Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Shadow of Cody Bellinger looms over Cubs camp

2 months agoAndy Martinez

St Notebook Sloan Image

MESA, Ariz. — There was hardly a cloud in the sky over Sloan Park as Cubs players reported for Monday’s first full-squad workout.

Well, except for the metaphorical one — the shadow of Cody Bellinger loomed large as camp kicked off. There was no straight-out-of-Hollywood scene where Bellinger burst into the Cubs facilities a la Dexter Fowler in 2016. When chairman Tom Ricketts met the media, there was no indication that a deal was on the horizon.

It’s status quo as the Cubs began their season preparations in earnest.

“We’re just waiting,” Ricketts said. “Waiting for whenever he and his agent are going to engage. It could be anytime now, or it could be a few weeks. We’ll just see where it goes.”

Since pitchers and catchers reported last week, the daily talk around the Cubs is when a Bellinger decision can be made. But the Cubs, like they said less than a week ago, are still focused on who’s in-house and not who may or may not be entering the complex.

The Cubs are banking on internal improvements — players with a few years of experience taking the next step in their development, veterans continuing to perform at their career norms and prospects and rookies turning into contributors.

“I think so many times we forget that guys can get better,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “That’s what we’re in the business for is to continue to get better. We got a lot of guys that have great work ethics and are really good at self-reflecting and aware of what they need to get better at.”

There’s no denying though, that bringing back Bellinger can help the Cubs. On the field, it improves their offense and gives them a left-handed hitting, middle-of-the-order bat, something they’re lacking. His addition also buys some time for top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong to continue to develop and offers manager Craig Counsell some roster flexibility, a trait he thrived in in Milwaukee.

So, will Ricketts jump in to try and close a deal like other owners have done with Bellinger’s agent Scott Boras?

“I don’t talk to Scott,” Ricketts said. “I think one of his signature moves is to go talk to the owner. When you do that, you undermine the credibility of your GM. Inserting yourself into that negotiation, I don’t think that helps. I don’t talk to him.”

Thus, the waiting game goes on — but the Cubs’ work isn’t on hold.

“I know everybody, obviously, loves Belli and he knows how we feel about him, so I’m hoping things work out,” Swanson said.

“I feel like this offseason was very intentional for a lot of folks and that’s something that you can never discount the fact that guys are gonna come back better.”

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Full complex workout

Ahead of the first squad workout, the Cubs held a meeting where the entire organization was present. Ricketts and Counsell were among those who spoke to the organization.

“My message is pretty consistent over the years — for me, it’s all about fans, just treat our fans like gold,” Ricketts said. “I like to remind players that this team means so much to so many people.

“We’re all just honored and blessed to be part of an organization that has so many fans and how much those fans care.”

As workouts began, the Cubs sprawled across the entirety of the Cubs complex for workouts. After warmups and some infield drills on Field 1, hitters took batting practice on Fields 3, 4, 5 and 6 — the backfields usually occupied by minor leaguers.

Fans flocked to see Swanson, Seiya Suzuki and Christopher Morel hit on Field 4. Then, live batting practice happened on the backfields with pitchers like Drew Smyly, Daniel Palencia and José Cuas facing hitters.

All-Star Game

Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke late last week about future All-Start Game hosts and mentioned Wrigley Field as a possibility in 2027 or 2028. It’s not a done deal, by any means, but the Cubs will continue to work with the city to secure the Midsummer Classic. Many of the hurdles that remain center around security.

“We’re trying to get an All-Star Game at some point pretty soon here,” Ricketts said. “There’s a few things we have to work out with the city and we’ve gotten snagged. But I think we’re getting closer, and we’ll hopefully know more pretty soon.”

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