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Cody Bellinger has been the Cubs’ ‘rock’ as both player and team have bounced back

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PITTSBURGH – After the season Cody Bellinger has put together, it’s almost laughable to look back at the winter meetings and the conversations about his struggles at the plate the past couple years. 

How much of a bounce back was reasonable to expect?

Bellinger took Zoom calls with interested clubs, and his agent Scott Boras – in between his wheeling and dealing – gave his evaluation of Bellinger’s decline in his annual press conference.

“The key thing for him, is he’s had the first time to get his strength back,” Boras said in front of a backdrop erected just off the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. “[In 2021,], he really played just a few months after a major surgery, and really wasn’t anywhere near the strength capacity he should be. Then after, the lockout. So this offseason has been really great for him. And he’s feeling much different than he did at the end of last season.”

That all sounded good, but of course the man trying to find his client the best pillow contract for the 2023 season would have a pitch for why Bellinger was primed for one. How much of it was spin?

The next day, Bellinger and the Cubs agreed to a one-year, $17.5 million contract, a deal that in retrospect looks like a steal. 

He’s been the team’s best offensive player, hitting .316 with 20 home runs, while playing elite defense in two positions, center field and first base. The Cubs have clawed their way into a Wild Card spot, entering Friday with the third-best record in MLB since June 9 and the most runs scored since the All-Star break. 

The Cubs have gone on hot and cold streaks before, but second baseman Nico Hoerner believes the team’s recent consistency will last. And Bellinger was the first reason he cited when asked why he was confident the Cubs wouldn’t repeat their poor May performance. 

“Belli getting hurt [in May] was pretty significant for our group, obviously,” Hoerner said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “Whether he’s playing at an MVP caliber like he has, or just being a consistent part of our lineup, that solidifies a lot, and it’s easier for all of us to play well when we have that kind of rock in the middle of our team.” 

Even when Bellinger’s power wasn’t there immediately after returning from a bone bruise in his left knee, he was getting on base at a high clip. And the power wasn’t absent for long. 

The quick bounce back stood in contrast to the last couple seasons, when more serious injuries led to mechanical changes, which contributed to a sharp decline for the former MVP. 

Bellinger had shoulder surgery in November 2020. Then he sustained a hairline fracture in his left fibula the following April. 

Bellinger’s swing is back to its most natural form, with a subtle load. But it takes a good amount of strength to generate power with a minimalistic move – strength he didn’t have when he was coming back from injury in 2021. 

“So I had to add,” Bellinger said in a recent conversation with the Sun-Times. “And then adding is really hard in this game, because the balls are moving so much.”

It seems Boras’ evaluation wasn’t just spin. 

Before the trade deadline, the talk surrounding Bellinger was about which teams could acquire him from the Cubs to boost their playoff odds. Since the deadline, Bellinger has fielded questions in each major market about his thoughts on free agency. 

“Well, he’s not going to be good unless he stays in a Cubs uniform,” manager David Ross quipped in New York earlier this month. 

Bellinger is expected to test his market, rather than accept an extension. But the Cubs will be in the mix, fueled by mutual interest. Maybe this magical run won’t have to end for either party.



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