Determined to return to contention, the Chicago Cubs spent Tuesday signing Cody Bellinger and courting Dansby Swanson.
Pairing Bellinger, a former National League MVP, with the friendly confines of Wrigley Field could help the slumping slugger regain his stroke.
Swanson, two years older at 29, could also find the dimensions to his liking, though his speed and defensive prowess at shortstop were priorities for manager David Ross, a former teammate in Atlanta.
Bellinger, capable at both first base and the outfield, hit 47 home runs for the Dodgers in 2019, when he won the MVP trophy. He will play center field, previously a revolving-door position for the Cubs, but his spot in the batting order will be determined by his ability to return to form at the plate.
He signed a one-year, $12.5 million contract with a mutual option that contains a $5 million buyout. The total guarantee for the left-handed slugger is $17.5 million.
After their surprise 2016 world championship ended a drought that lasted 108 years, the Cubs have not reached the World Series again. In fact, they have missed post-season play in both of the last two seasons, when they failed to win more than they lost.
In 2022, the team went 74-88, finishing third in the NL Central, 19 games behind the front-running St. Louis Cardinals.
According to multiple reports at the San Diego Winter Meetings, the Cardinals are the chief rivals to the Cubs in the Swanson sweepstakes.
When the meetings began, Swanson was one of four top-tier shortstops available on the free-agent market. But when Trea Turner signed an 11-year, $300 million pact with Philadelphia Monday, the asking price went up for the other three: Swanson, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts.
The Atlanta Braves would like to retain their Gold Glove shortstop, who was also a first-time All-Star last year, but have not found common ground in negotiating with Swanson, an Atlanta native who grew up rooting for the team.
Despite consecutive bad years, Bellinger had even more suitors than Swanson. He hit .165 in 2021 and .210 in 2022, convincing the Dodgers not to tender him a contract. But teams remember the 6’4″ left-handed hitter as a two-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and Championship Series MVP, as well as the league MVP just three years ago, when he led the NL with 351 total bases.
Even after the Bellinger signing, the Cubs rank only 13th in overall payroll at $109,960,000, according to Spotrac. With so much room to spare before triggering the luxury threshold tax, signing Swanson could still make sense.