Central Notes: Bellinger, Counsell, Tigers

MLB Trade Rumors

Cubs center fielder Cody Bellinger figures to be perhaps the top positional free agent this side of Shohei Ohtani during the coming offseason, and The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma discussed his upcoming free agency with various scouts this morning. Bellinger’s 2023 campaign saw him slash a strong .307/.356/.525, pairing 26 home runs and a minuscule 15.6% strikeout rate with quality defense both in center field and at first base as well as 20 stolen bases. The bounce back campaign comes on the heels of what had been a brutal pair of seasons for Bellinger; the 2019 NL MVP managed a line of just .193/.256/.355 in 900 trips to the plate in 2021 and 2022, production that left him 31% worse than league average by measure of wRC+.

Bellinger’s struggles led the Dodgers to non-tender him this past offseason, leading him to sign with the Cubs for the 2023 campaign. As brutal as those struggles were, Sharma relays that the scouts he spoke to were unconcerned about Bellinger regressing to the below-average form he showed the past two seasons. While Sharma notes that the scouts suggested that Bellinger’s performance this year likely included some good fortune, casting doubt on his ability to replicate the 134 wRC+ campaign he had this season, he still figures to be an above-average contributor over the next few years, with one scout suggesting a 115-120 wRC+ is a realistic expectation for Bellinger in 2024 and beyond.

What’s more, Sharma relays that the Cubs expect Bellinger and his agent, Scott Boras, to be patient in their pursuit of the best contract available this winter. Sharma suggests that the Cubs are “preparing for [Boras] to take Bellinger’s negotiations deep into the offseason” as they maintain interest in resigning him, with the negotiations expected to last into the new year barring “an outlandish deal.” Chicago’s pursuit of Bellinger figures to be a key piece of the club’s offseason on the heels of a 2023 season that saw the Cubs post a surprisingly competitive 83-79 record, finishing just one game out of an NL Wild Card spot. That success came in large part thanks to Bellinger, who was the strongest offensive contributor to the club in 2023. Though top center field prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong is waiting in the wings to take over up the middle, that would likely represent a significant drop in offensive output for the Cubs in 2024.

More from around MLB’s Central divisons…

  • Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who is set to become a free agent on November 1, is currently meeting with the Guardians in Cleveland to discuss the club’s managerial opening (as reported by Zack Meisel and Will Sammon of The Athletic). Though the sides ultimately coming together on a deal is considered to be something of a long-shot, the Guardians are accustomed to spending more on their manager than the typical small-market club, as recently-retired Cleveland skipper Terry Francona was reportedly the highest-paid manager in baseball last season. Counsell, 53, is among the most well-regarded managers in the game and figures to be highly sought after during his free agency, with the Mets known to have interest in his services in addition to the Guardians and Brewers. Per SNY’s Andy Martino, Counsell’s meeting with the Guardians today marks his first official interview this offseason.
  • The Tigers found a major success story on the waiver wire back during Spring Training in left-hander Tyler Holton, who pitched to a sterling 2.11 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 85 innings of work for Detroit this season. As discussed by Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press, Holton stands out as a prime example of the benefits of president of baseball operations Scott Harris’s frequent use of the waiver wire; as Petzold notes, the Tigers have made 17 waiver claims since Harris took the reins of Detroit’s front office in September 2022. In addition to the savvy waiver claim, Petzold notes that Detroit’s pitching infrastructure helped Holton develop a slider early in the 2023 campaign that proved to be perhaps his most effective pitch. Hitter batted just .135 against the slider this year with a minuscule .153 wOBA, per Statcast.

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