Rosenthal: How Cody Bellinger deal could impact Scott Boras’ other top free-agent clients

This can’t be what Scott Boras wanted. And now that the first of the Boras Four, Cody Bellinger, has reached agreement on a lesser contract than expected, it might only embolden the teams pursuing Boras’ other top free-agent clients to hold the line.

The opt-outs in Bellinger’s reported three-year, $80 million free-agent agreement with the Chicago Cubs give him the chance to return to the open market next offseason. Perhaps then he will land a deal closer to what some projected for him – six years, $162 million by The Athletic’s Tim Britton, 12 years, $264 million by

Carlos Correa followed such a path, opting out of his initial three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Minnesota Twins to land a six-year, $200 million deal. He would have done even better, too, if the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets had not cited issues with his physical to back out of $300 million-plus deals.

Other Boras clients – Adrían Beltré, Dallas Keuchel and Mike Moustakas – also took lesser contracts initially, then made up most or all of the difference later. But to get such a deal, Bellinger will need to prove himself again. And he thought he had done that last season, finishing 10th in the National League MVP voting and winning NL Comeback Player of the Year.

His average annual value of $26.67 million ranks 37th all-time, just below Freddie Freeman and Carlos Rodón, both of whom are at $27 million.. But Bellinger is entering his age 28 season, just as another Boras client, Corey Seager, was when he landed a 10-year, $325 million with the Texas Rangers two offseasons ago.

Seager was a shortstop, helping his value. He also had been 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and 2020 World Series MVP. On the other hand, he was coming off a season in which he played only 95 games because of a fractured right hand. His previous team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, questioned whether he could stay at shortstop. Others wondered about his long-term durability.

Bellinger won the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2023 with the Cubs. (Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bellinger, a center fielder and first baseman, was the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 MVP. He produced a much better platform season than Seager, at least on the surface. But his .307 batting average, 26 home runs and .881 OPS were built on an average exit velocity that exceeded only one out of five major leaguers. Teams were not convinced that Bellinger’s bounceback was sustainable, that he had fully overcome the struggles of his injury-marred 2021 and ‘22 seasons.

Part of Bellinger’s problem was that he entered a surprisingly tepid market. His options were limited in part by the reduced spending by high-payroll clubs such as the Mets and Padres and uncertainty a number of teams faced in their future local television revenues. So often, Boras has identified – and exploited – at least one team that was ready to spend. Other than the Dodgers, who opted for non-Boras alternatives, no such team emerged this offseason.

Rival agents and some club officials will question whether Boras overplayed his hand, not just with Bellinger but also the other members of the Boras Four – left-handers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery and third baseman Matt Chapman. Boras’ initial expectations for Bellinger are not known, but it’s reasonable to ask: What if he had aimed lower? Could he have secured four years, $120 million? Five years, $145 million? An even longer deal with a lower AAV?

Now that Bellinger’s terms are public, it would not be surprising for Snell, Montgomery and Chapman to settle for similar “bridge” contracts. San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, whose team could use one of the pitchers as well as Chapman, does not figure to budge in his staredown with Boras. Other clubs also could be less likely to relent.

Boras can blame the regression in the market, lament the clubs in financial retreat and point to the flexibility Bellinger retains over his future. Bellinger, to be sure, will be fine. Two years ago, the Dodgers non-tendered him. Boras since has banked him $97.5 million in guaranteed money, bringing his career earnings to nearly $150 million. And Bellinger still stands a chance of getting a monster deal for him after this season or next.

Fair enough. The game isn’t over. But if you told Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer at the start of the offseason he would sign Bellinger for three years and $80 million, how do you think he would have reacted? With a smile wider than Lake Michigan. The smile he is wearing today.

(Top photo: Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

Source link

Leave a Comment