Even if they somehow manage to land Shohei Ohtani, a reality that seems less likely by the hour, the Cubs are going to need to make even more moves to round out the roster. But if they miss out on the biggest fish in the free-agent ocean, Jed Hoyer is going to need to get bites on a good number of the lines he says they’ve got in the water. One such line could reel Cody Bellinger back to Chicago, though it sounds like the price is prohibitive at the moment.
“It makes sense that you want to bring Bellinger back,” Bruce Levine told 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Show Wednesday morning. “But we’re hearing that Bellinger is asking upwards of $300 million right now. So are you gonna pay 8-10 years at $300 million for Bellinger at age 29? Most people would say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ [but] what’s gonna be the real impact there?”
I’m going to go ahead and disagree that “most people” would be cool with inking Bellinger at that cost, even if they believe incorrectly that the Cubs just have an Ohtani war chest that will be spent regardless. While not everyone shares my concerns about how his anemic batted-ball data will age, the figure Levine shared is anywhere from 33-50% higher than most projections. MLB Trade Rumors was roundly mocked for predicting $264 million over 12 years, but that might be the target.
This is probably just a matter of drafting behind Ohtani to take advantage of what will surely end up as the largest contract in American professional sports for at least a little while. As such, the current asking price is artificially inflated and should drop over time. It’ll have to if there’s any real hope for the Cubs to facilitate a reunion.
In the meantime, they’ll be looking into several other players we’ve discussed here multiple times already over the last few weeks.
“Rhys Hoskins from Philadelphia didn’t play last year, power-hitting first baseman, is another area that they’re probably gonna go,” Levine said. “There have been conversations there, he would fit in nicely. They certainly need a first baseman. Matt Chapman, who played for Toronto, before that Oakland, another free agent. There’s a similar theme with all of these guys that I’ve just talked about: They’re all Scott Boras players.
“So it’s gonna be a Scott Boras winter with the Chicago Cubs and talking about their players. I think Hoskins is realistic, I think a trade for (Tyler) Glasnow is certainly realistic for the Cubs. They are not going to stop trying to build a championship team if they don’t get Ohtani.”
This all followed a conversation in which Levine had shared some numbers about Ohtani’s potential impact on club revenue and how the Cubs could still spend big even if they don’t land him. Though the accounting stuff seemed to be more smoke and mirrors, the idea that payroll might increase by $70 million and push past the first competitive balance tax threshold is promising.
Of course, a lot of that will come from what figure to be short-term deals. Glasnow, who Levine predicted the Cubs will trade for during the Winter Meetings, would account for more than a third of that spending with his $25 million salary. Hoskins may be looking at a one-year pillow deal like the one Bellinger signed last season, so maybe that’s another $15-18 million. Bellinger would eat up most of the remainder even at a more reasonable rate, as would Chapman.
The Cubs would still need to add another starter and some relievers, not all of whom can just be bargain-bin reclamation projects. When you get down to it, $70 million doesn’t really stretch that far. A lot of that will fall off, however, which is by design as the front office looks to keep open lanes for some of the upper-level prospects Carter Hawkins said aren’t “pounding on the door quite yet.”
Between those short-term acquisitions and the expiration of current deals after the 2024 season, there will be more room both on the roster and in the budget to reload. Or at least that seems to be what Hoyer and Hawkins are planning at this point.
Ed. note: Apologies if anything today feels more rushed or shoddy than usual. In addition to trying to keep up with all the news, my kids’ high school was evacuated and they were sent home due to a bomb threat. It’s been kind of a mess around here.