Cody Bellinger knew it was just a matter of time before he returned to his five tool stratosphere. Now that he's become a pivotal part of the Cubs success on a one year "show and prove" deal, what does the future hold for Scott Boras' client?
"My baseball history sucks" was not something I expected to hear from July's National League Player of the Month Cody Bellinger. As I do all players before our interviews conclude, I asked "Belli" to go around the diamond and give me his all-time MLB squad. "Damn you really did put me on the spot man," he said.
For a guy that spent the first six years of his life in minor league/big league clubhouses, I undoubtedly expected Cody to run off his all-time squad with no issues. "I thought about it when I was walking into the clubhouse later that evening and realized how bad my team was," Bellinger said laughing. "I have buddies that know everything about every player. Every stat, what colIege guys went to and all of that. Me not so much."
"You should try Immaculate Grid. It's like the baseball version of Wordle. I suck at it...I'm pretty sure you'd be much better at it than me," Bellinger said. For the record, I tried it and got two answers right (one of which Bellinger gave me because it was him) and haven't logged on since.
Bellinger's father Clay was the 44th overall pick (2nd round) of the 1989 MLB draft by the San Francisco Giants. He spent his first ten years in the minors before finally getting the call as a 30 year old lifer. He spent three seasons with the New York Yankees winning two World Series in 1999 and 2000. His MLB career ended after playing two games with the Anaheim Angels in 2002.
"He's all about effort," Cody said referring to his dad. "Put in the effort, put in the work and good things will happen."
Great things have happened for Bellinger as his extraordinary month of July propelled the Cubs back into the N.L. playoff race. They sit 0.5 games ahead of the Miami Marlins for the last wildcard spot with 10 games left. His offensive explosion also had a sizable hand in President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer avoiding a third consecutive sell and buying big acquiring Washington National and former Cub Jeimer Candelario before the August 1st trade deadline.
The 124th pick in the 2013 MLB draft made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017 and was unanimously crowned NL Rookie of the Year with 39 home runs and 97 RBI. Bellinger played in all 162 games in 2018 and was named NLCS MVP. In the 2019 season, Bellinger finished with a career high .305 batting average, 47 home runs and 115 RBI earning himself the NL Most Valuable Player and Silver Slugger awards. He also won a Gold glove making him the first player in Dodger history to win all three awards in the same season.
During the pandemic shortened 2020 season, Bellinger hit a home run to win the NLCS and dislocated his shoulder celebrating with Dodgers teammate Enrique Hernandez. After arthroscopic glenoid labrum surgery in November of 2020, Bellinger rejoined the Dodgers in spring training. A collision with Oakland A's pitcher Ryan Guduan led to a hairline fracture in his left fibula sidelining Bellinger for close to two months. Upon his return, Bellinger suffered a career low offensive output where he hit below .200. He admitted his struggles came from nagging pain and weakness from both injuries leading manager Dave Roberts to downgrade Bellinger to a platoon role.
He suffered yet another injury in September when he fractured a rib colliding with teammate Gavin Lux. He finished the season batting .165 and missed 53 games. Bellinger did damage in the 2021 playoffs recording twelve hits, seven RBI and scoring 5 runs in 34 at bats. He did strikeout 11 times. In his final season in L.A., Bellinger finished with a .210 batting average with 19 home runs, 68 RBI and the lowest on base percentage of all qualified hitters at 0.265. After signing a one year bet on himself deal with the Cubs, Bellinger's resurgence is in full effect and he's back to the player he knew he would return to. "This was the first season where I was completely able to have a normal schedule. I was feeling really strong this offseason and swinging felt a little different."
In 26 games in the month of July, Bellinger finished with a .400 batting average, five doubles, eight home runs and 24 RBI. He led all of MLB in hits, average and total bases. He was third in RBI, fifth in slugging % at .698, tied for fifth in home runs and sixth in OPS at 1.122.
Overall, Bellinger is batting .310 (145-467) with 27 doubles, one triple, 26 home runs, 94 RBI and 20 stolen bases while leading MLB with 72 RBI since July 1. Atlanta Braves OF Ronald Acuna Jr. and Los Angeles Dodgers 1B Freddie Freeman are the only other players to have at least a .310 average, 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases this season.
He's also just the fourth player in Cubs history to ever reach 25 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season, joining Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa and Javier Baez.
"Cody knows exactly how we feel about him. You guys know we don't discuss extensions during the season," Jed Hoyer said when asked about a long term deal for Bellinger. "As good as it's been for him, it's been better for us. I mean he's been amazing. He's sorta been like the center-piece of the this run we've had over the last 6-8 weeks. We'd love to keep him here. He's been a great fit for us and he's a great fit in the clubhouse for us. We'll see."
As a Scott Boras client, Bellinger will demand top dollar as he enters free agency (with the mutual option expected not to be exercised) and the most powerful agent in all of sports conventionally gets his clientele exactly what he commands. Bellinger has returned to five tool elite status and that rarity will have the 28 year old heavily sought-after. I'm 100% confident that there is at least one over thirsty general manager willing to jump out of his body and offer whatever Boras fancies for Bellinger's services. Somewhere around the early to mid 200 m's is most likely where the bidding war will begin. I can see Boras working his magic vastly close to 300 million.
Are the Cubs willing to hop in the battle of the wallets over the winter to lock Bellinger up for the forseeable future?
I sat down with him during the Cubs recent homestand as we touched on his favorite thing about Chicago, the best piece of baseball advice his dad ever gave him, the mental and physical struggle of rehab, etc.
The Bigs: Belli how you feeling today brother?
Bellinger: I'm feeling pretty good. Just another day...game in a few hours so just getting ready for it.
The Bigs: So you've played for two of the most iconic franchises, in not just baseball but sports in general with the Dodgers and now the Cubs. What was that experience like in L.A. and how has it been so far here in Chicago, especially with the history and the amount of legendary players that have been on both sides?
Bellinger: I've been extremely blessed. I don't take that for granted. I understand I've had the opportunity to play for the Dodgers and now the Cubs and the history with both organizations are pretty incredible. You know this year being able to play half my games at Wrigley Field and see the atmosphere it comes with every night has been special and really fun.
The Bigs: That was gonna be my next question. A random Tuesday night or the best day of all...a Saturday afternoon 1:20 game here at Wrigley Field, regardless there are gonna be 30,000 plus fans screaming and yelling. Is playing in front of this home crowd everything you thought it would be?
Bellinger: You know it's cool coming here on the road. For me I came once a year obviously and it was a pretty cool experience. But you know there's something about wearing the home uniform running out of this third base dugout is a completely different experience and I'm glad I'm able to experience it for a full year and you know the fans out there in the bleachers are awesome, they're into the game and it's been fun so I've enjoyed it.
The Bigs: Favorite thing about Chicago, the city so far?
Bellinger: Man I just...the summertime, as the summertime has rolled around I think it's just good vibes everywhere you know. People are excited, people are outside and you know I could give the obvious answer which is the food and we get pretty good food selections here postgame and I try out a lot of the good restaurants. But overall just the vibe and the energy this city has.
The Bigs: Have you had Harold's Chicken yet?
Bellinger: I have not.
The Bigs: We gotta make that happen for you.
Bellinger: And if I have, we may have had it in here but I don't know for sure. I don't know.
The Bigs: I'll make sure...you'll know when you get it.
Bellinger: I need it.
The Bigs: So you could've chosen any team, probably even a longer amount of time but you chose Chicago on a one year deal. Why was Chicago your landing spot and was it more of a show and prove season for you?
Bellinger: Yeah I think I knew how I could play this game and you know I was feeling really good in the off-season. My strength was up, mentally I was feeling good and you know I just met with the Cubs and it just seemed like it was a perfect fit. I'm obviously excited that I chose it and you know there's a lot more work to be done but it's been fun and I've enjoyed it.
The Bigs: We know about the shoulder injury and the struggles after the shoulder injury. What was tougher for you, the physical part or the mental part of it and did you have any doubts of coming back and returning to the player that you once were and that you could be again?
Bellinger: Yeah I think once I got my strength, we had a few crazy off-seasons with the lockout, COVID and this was the first one where I was able to completely have a normal schedule and like I said I was feeling really strong this off-season and swinging felt a little different. Obviously you can't really put it to the test until you consistently face pitchers but just all my work was feeling really good and feeling like what it should you know so I was feeling confident going into spring and just put in the work, put in the time and like I said a lot more work to be done though.
The Bigs: Your dad played a few years in the league and won a couple of World Series titles. What was his best piece of baseball advice to you?
Bellinger: Luckily for me I was able to grow up around the game. Like you said he played and until I was around six was when he retired but the first six years of my life I was in the minor league clubhouses and the New York clubhouses and being around the game. You know he was my coach all the way up to high school and even in high school so just learning the game from him. He was a "grindier" player you know and his game was all about effort. Put in the effort, put in the work and goof things will happen.
The Bigs: Before I let you go, like I do all of my guests I've gotta put you on blast. Go around the diamond and give me Cody Bellinger's all-time major league baseball team.
Bellinger: All time? Damn you really did put me on the spot man. Left field Manny Ramirez, center field Ken Griffey, right field....hmmmm. Let's go shortstop, we'll go Jeter. Second base, oh man you really put me on the spot you know what I mean. How about those four? Do you ned the rest? (I've got him REALLY thinking as he twirls his glove & unstraps his batting glove)
The Bigs: You can give me a starter and a reliever. I feel like the reliever is a given.
Bellinger: Well the reliever is Mariano Rivera. Starter, tough to debate Roger Clemens with however many Cy Young's he's won. I'll say Roger.
The Bigs: We'll I'll take that.
Bellinger: Couldn't complete the diamond!
The Bigs: Well half of the diamond is cool.
Bellinger: What got me was the right side of the infield. I'm drawing blanks on those.
The Bigs: I chose Roberto Alomar Jr. and I forgot who I chose at first base. (It was "The Big Hurt" Frank Thomas)
Bellinger: I can't think of first base right now.
The Bigs: I'll take that. I'm still waiting on someone to add themselves to the team.
Bellinger: No not yet, you can't add yourself. (laughing) There are too many good players out there.
The Bigs: I appreciate you taking your time out for us. Keep having a great year and I know the fans are looking forward to you coming back for a few more years.
Bellinger: We'll see, we'll see. (laughing)