‘Super Happy’ Cody Bellinger Aims to Lead Cubs to Playoffs

Cody Bellinger has been the biggest topic of Cubs-related conversation since last season ended, and that includes the talks among his teammates. They weren’t even shy about it, with Dansby Swanson standing out as the most publicly vocal at Cubs Convention back in January. That didn’t go unnoticed by the Bellinger, whose protracted free agency defied nearly every projection.

“Yeah, it was amazing,” Bellinger shared during his re-introductory press conference on Wednesday. “Just the constant support from the teammates. Obviously, everyone knew how great of a time I had last year and how great of a clubhouse we had and just the positive words that they were bringing this past offseason, which was great to hear and obviously was super excited to get back here with them.”

While the guys in the clubhouse never wavered in their support, a weird undercurrent of disdain had developed among fans who believed Bellinger was ungrateful or whatever. Not that it should be surprising given the way people tend to view professional athletes who make a lot of money playing a sport, but it was getting to the point where people were pissed that the dude wanted to be paid well.

More than that, fans questioned Bellinger’s desire to be in Chicago.

“I was wanting to be here,” Bellinger said. “I did want to come back to this team and I did want to do my best to help. I mean, we were so close last year — so close last year to becoming a playoff team. That was a pretty important piece for me, was to get back here. I want to help bring this team to the playoffs.”

The thing a lot of people may have missed is that the Cubs really didn’t get to the point of starting negotiations until very recently. There’s a big difference between talking and offering, and Jed Hoyer was doing nothing more than the former for the better part of a year when it came to bringing Bellinger back.

“Really, with Scott and me, I think you can take the conversation back to July,” Hoyer said. “I think we started the conversation in July, and I think Scott will attest my comments to him about Cody have never wavered at all. I’ve felt all along (he was) a great fit for the team, great fit in the clubhouse; love the person, the family, all those things.

“So that never wavered. I think we probably talked more often than Scott would have liked, but I feel like we…I think with any negotiation, there’s sometimes a misperception that we just fire offers back and forth to each other. I think there’s a lot of talking about what each side wanted and over the last five to seven days before we got a deal done, I think we kind of targeted a deal that made sense for both sides, and at that point we did start making more offers and getting serious.”

Bellinger acknowledged the obvious fact that he was seeking a longer deal all winter, but said the Cubs were his priority when it became clear such a deal wasn’t going to materialize due to what Scott Boras called “irregularity” in the market.

“I did want to come back here,” he reiterated. “I just love Wrigley Field. I love the fans. Me and my family enjoyed Chicago. And when it was coming towards the end and everything was kind of coming to light a little bit, this was definitely something that I wanted and both sides agreed on. And I’m super happy that it worked out the way it did.”

Craig Counsell said it may be a little while before we see Bellinger back in the lineup for the Cubs given his lack of competitive ramp-up, but we’re probably only talking a couple days. If nothing else, lacking that middle-of-the-order presence gave the new manager that much more time to evaluate other members of his potential roster as he drinks through a firehose this spring. It’s one of those good problems to have, and I’d wager this is the exact kind of scenario for which the front office felt Counsell was best suited.

At the risk of going all high school football coach and touting the value of Jimmys and Joes over Xs and Os, that’s really how Counsell explains his philosophy. Add in a dude like Bellinger whose immaculate vibes make him an anthropomorphic edible and you’ve got a tremendous foundation for a clubhouse that should be able to sail even the most turbulent waters without a hint of seasickness.

When you look back over the Cubs’ mediocrity these last few seasons, one of the big issues that stands out is their prolonged periods of poor play. Even if it’s impossible to keep the offense from going cold for a few days or manage the bullpen perfectly all season, the hope is that Counsell can push the right buttons and pull the right levers to come out on top of more close games.

With Bellinger and Swanson kind of serving as emotional governors, Counsell should be able to channel seemingly unbounded energy from Christopher Morel, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and other young players in the most constructive manner possible. And not that I’d deign to question a player’s motivation, but it doesn’t hurt that Bellinger is effectively playing for that long-term deal in each of the first two years of his new deal.

Here at the outset, this appears to be one of those situations in which everyone wins. The Cubs get a star back sans huge commitment, Bellinger gets the highest AAV ever offered by this organization, the players get one of their favorite teammates back, and the fans feel like this is a competitive roster. Well, most of the fans, since there are always going to be some folks who will choose to be unhappy no matter what happens.

The Cubs are far from perfect and wouldn’t be favored if they were in any other division, but all they need to be worried about for now is winning the Central and giving themselves a shot at something bigger. Bellinger gives them a huge boost in that regard and he should make the Cubs a helluva lot more fun to watch this season.

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