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Bellinger casts shadow over Cubs convention as he mulls his options as a free agent

Cody Bellinger Chicago Cubs Cody Bellinger - The Canadian Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Cody Bellinger was nowhere to be seen, though his presence was hard to miss.

The free agent slugger cast a shadow over Chicago's annual fan convention as he mulls his options in free agency following a resurgent season with the Cubs.

“He's a tremendous baseball player, and he's going through the process, which is what he's played this long and this hard to be able to do," Gold Glove left fielder Ian Happ said. “He's going through the full process. Eventually, he will make a decision and something will happen. But for now, it's probably the hardest part of the process, being this point in the year and not knowing where you're going. It takes a lot to be able to get through all that, and I applaud him, respect him for being able to do that.”

Bellinger's decision looms large for a team eyeing a playoff spot.

The Cubs finished second in the NL Central at 83-79 and missed the postseason by a game after faltering down the stretch last season. They made a surprising move when they replaced manager David Ross with longtime Milwaukee Brewers skipper Craig Counsell in early November.

Bellinger had already decided to test the free agent market at that point, declining his end of a $25 million option.

The 28-year-old Bellinger hit .307 with 26 homers and 97 RBIs in his first season in Chicago. It was quite a turnaround after he was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers following a series of injuries and a drastic decline on offense. The 2019 NL MVP also gave the Cubs an elite glove in center field and at first base.

“I think that he’s only going to get better,” All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson said. "I feel like the injury stuff in the previous couple years had really kind of held him back from being his best self on a baseball field and you know hopefully that refresh of form can kind of stick here in Chicago. We’ll see.”

Swanson understands the position Bellinger is in. He left the Atlanta Braves a year ago after helping his hometown team win a World Series championship and signed a $177 million, seven-year contract with Chicago.

Swanson said he texts “here and there” with Bellinger to see how he's doing and give him advice on the process.

“I mean he’s obviously an awesome player and we’d love to have him back,” he said. "I think that that’s about as clear as day, so hopefully we can make that happen.”

The Cubs were 15th in the majors in home runs and could use more pop even if they were to re-sign Bellinger. But for now, they're waiting.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent huge this offseason, committing $1,235,687,500 to two-way star Shohei Ohtani, pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow, and outfielder Teoscar Hernández. Star players Juan Soto, Chris Sale, Glasnow and Robbie Ray have all been traded.

But some quality free agents are still out there. NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Josh Hader, and Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman remain unsigned.

“My job is to make moves that I feel strongly about, that I think are good investments in the Cubs organization,” President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said. “I can't make those up. I can't force those. Sometimes, they happen in a flurry. Sometimes, it's really slow. I have to do things at my own pace.”

The Cubs made a big move this past week when they agreed to a $53 million, four-year contract with Japanese left-hander Shōta Imanaga that could become an $80 million, five-year deal. It had largely been a quiet offseason for them following the Counsell hiring.

They also acquired power-hitting prospect Michael Busch and reliever Yency Almonte from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday. Counsell said the Cubs see first base as Busch's primary position for now, though he mostly played third base at Triple-A last season.

As for Bellinger?

“He knows that I think highly of him,” Hoyer said.


AP Baseball Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this report. ___