The Rundown: Roster Implications of Bellinger Signing, Counsell’s Close-Game Prowess, Crawford Joins Cards, Time to Pay Steele

I have some thoughts on the Cody Bellinger signing I wanted to get to yesterday but couldn’t find the time.

  • Bellinger and Scott Boras didn’t agree to a typical pillow contract but it effectively operates as one due to the opt-outs after each of the first two years.
  • The Cubs are assuming most of the risk in the outfielder’s new contract. Bellinger’s deal will be considered a massive failure if he’s still here earning $20 million in 2026.
  • Don’t pencil Pete Crow-Armstrong into Iowa’s Opening Day lineup just yet. Craig Counsell, who has become somewhat of a disruptive voice in Jed Hoyer’s front office, is going to bring the best players to Chicago. Bellinger’s signing simply means Crow-Armstrong has to earn a roster spot, and I expect him to fearlessly embrace that opportunity. Counsell also likes the challenge of developing young stars at the major league level. Crow-Armstrong will be sent to Iowa, however, if he does not earn a starting position.
  • Counsell may have been pushing Hoyer to sign Bellinger all along. The president of baseball operations told his new manager he would find him a three-hole hitter. Counsell pushed back, saying he wanted a three-win player instead, even if it meant saving runs instead of plating them. Bellinger satisfies both needs and Crow-Armstrong’s 80-grade defense gives him a huge edge in making this team.
  • Counsell has MLB’s third-best lifetime winning percentage (.570) in one-run games, so he knows the importance of adding three wins. David Ross was 21-24 last year in games decided by one run, but 4-10 in the first two months of the season. Counsell was 29-18 in 2023 in similar situations, and those are the games where a manager makes the most visible difference in a game’s outcome. Yes, that’s also the 7-8 difference in wins Chicago’s new manager potentially provides.
  • The best managers of all time in one-run games are Earl Weaver (.575) and Frank Chance (.571) in case you were wondering. Counsell has been above .500 in those games for seven straight seasons. It’s not an optimal way to win, but it is an excruciating way to lose.
  • About 28% of all games are decided by one run. What percentage of Counsell’s career games are decided by one run? Yep, 28%.
  • Bellinger’s signing puts the following players on the proverbial roster bubble, in order: Crow-Armstrong, Michael Busch, Matt Mervis, and Mike Tauchman. Add Patrick Wisdom to a lesser extent because he’s unlikely to get reps at first now. I expect Tauchman to make the team, with Mervis and Busch duking it out for at-bats as the team’s DH. Don’t count out rookie Alexander Canario as a fourth outfielder, though. Sending PCA to Iowa would be a favorable outcome for Tauchman, Canario, and Mervis.
  • ‘‘The outfield could get a little tighter here,’’ Counsell said. ‘‘But, obviously, [Canario’s] value as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching, we’ll figure out where that fits in the lineup and what position.’’
  • Counsell used three players at DH last year with Jesse Winker getting a little less than half the starts. Darin Ruf and Jahmai Jones were the others, and the trio hit collectively well below the Mendoza line. I’m pulling for Busch, but Mervis is more of a feel-good story. Each becomes a strong trade candidate with Bellinger in tow. That said, Belli’s opt-outs after seasons one and two show the confidence Hoyer has in one of the two rookies emerging as a star. You could say the same about Crow-Armstrong, but that’s just stating the obvious.
  • Bellinger stole 20 bases last season and will likely run more this season. He may not hit .307 again, but a season similar to the one Christian Yelich had last season is fully acceptable because Bellinger is a better defender.
  • The Cubs could potentially win five Gold Gloves this season with Bellinger at first base, Crow-Armstrong in center, Ian Happ in left, and Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson up the middle. That’s a tough lineup to beat and should make fielding-dependent pitchers Kyle Hendricks, Jameson Taillon, and Jordan Wicks better. Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya are steady behind the plate, too.
  • Final thought: Bellinger will almost certainly be traded at this year’s deadline if the Cubs have fallen far enough off the pace, though his addition does make Chicago the favorite to win the NL Central.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Seiya Suzuki is having a little fun imitating Happ and I’m all for it.

Central Intelligence

Spring Training News & Notes

Jo Adell, Joey Bart, and Carter Kieboom are former top prospects facing a do-or-die spring because they are out of options.

Spencer Strider wants MLB to pause pitch clock changes due to an increase in arm injuries.

The Dodgers and Twins agreed on a trade that sends outfielder Manuel Margot, infielder Rayne Doncon, and cash to Minnesota for shortstop prospect Noah Miller.

Margot became expendable after Los Angeles signed veteran Kiké Hernández.

The Cardinals signed three-time All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford.

Starter brand satin jackets are back and I want all of them!

Extra Innings

Christopher Morel is a game-changer if he can defend third base this season.

They Said It

  • “The impact that [Bellinger] had on our group last year from a personality standpoint, a versatility standpoint, and obviously his ability to produce at a high level, really made our team and put us in a position to have some success last year. That’s something we’ve been looking forward to being able to get back.” – Swanson
  • “Internal options have never been like the sexiest thing in the world, it’s never the flashiest thing. But there are so many great young kids here that go about it the right way, that ask the right questions, that want to learn, want to grow, and have a lot of ability, and that’s rare. You don’t see that too many places.” – Swanson
  • “This is how it works on a good team. You’ve got to fight your way into a lineup and earn it. There’s still plenty of opportunity there for Pete [Crow-Armstrong] and plenty of room for him to improve. I think [of him as] a college senior. Those players, they try to force their way in. That’s where Pete sits right now still with that opportunity.” – Counsell
  • “Pete’s a player that just benefits from being on the field and playing. He’s just got to experience baseball because he’s at a point where stacking up at-bats, stacking up experiences on defense, on the bases, they’re making him a better player where big jumps can still happen.” – Counsell

Apropos of Nothing

I ordered a 1987 Greg Maddux official pullover jersey in honor of dear but not forgotten friend Scott Crandall. I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple of years, but I finally pulled the trigger because of my upcoming 60th birthday. I really miss that guy.

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

Here’s hoping Hoyer extends Justin Steele soon. Strider’s extension was for six years and $75 million and looks like a bargain. Would you pay Steele more or less? I’d offer five years at $55 million but admit I could be a little off.

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