Spring preview: Cubs still waiting on Bellinger decision

The Cub' off-season started out on such an upbeat note.

Less than a week after the Rangers beat the Diamondbacks in Game 5 to win the World Series, they pulled off a stunning move — hiring former Brewers manager Craig Counsell.

That looked to be the first of many additions for president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, but it's been a quiet winter for the Cubs.

Opening Day is still over six weeks away (March 28 at Texas), so there's plenty of time to improve the roster.

“My job is to make moves that I feel strongly about, that I think are good investments in the Cubs' organization,” Hoyer said. “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.”

As Cubs pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., for spring training Wednesday, here are five things to look for:

Cody Bellinger

After joining the Cubs last season on a one-year, $17.5 million contract, Bellinger was determined to prove he was more like the player that won National League MVP honors in 2019 with the Dodgers than the injury-riddled version over the next three seasons.

He was.

The 28-year-old center fielder/first baseman led the Cubs in batting average (. 307), home runs (26) and RBI (97) while frequently professing his fondness for his teammates and Wrigley Field.

The feeling was mutual.

“I think that he’s only going to get better,” 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 the baseball field and hopefully that refresh of form can kind of stick here in Chicago. We’ll see.”

Bellinger is obviously trying to secure the most lucrative deal he can, in the range of $200 million-plus. The Cubs are obviously looking for cheaper terms.

It looks like the waiting game is going to spill into spring training, but there is no question the Cubs need Bellinger's dangerous left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup.


He was a consistent winner with the small-market Brewers, can he keep the mojo going with the large-market Cubs?

Left fielder Ian Happ, among others, believes Counsell is the right manager to get the Cubs to the playoffs for the first time since 2020.

“I’ve been frustrated by him across the field for a long time,” Happ said. “He was always really good with the matchup stuff. They (Brewers) always had a good bullpen, but he always ran the bullpen really efficiently. He was always making frustrating moves as an opposing hitter.”

Christopher Morel

In his first two seasons with the Cubs, Morel played in 220 games and had 42 home runs and 117 RBI.

He can hit, there's no doubt about that, but where is he going to play?

The Cubs used Morel all over the field the last two years, and there's been talk about trying him at a new position — first base.

If the Cubs fail to bring Bellinger back, that's where Morel might wind up.

While managing Milwaukee, Counsell got a good look at Morel from the opposing dugout in 2022-23.

“I think he has earned his way into a lineup,” Counsell said. “There's no question about that. He's an exciting young hitter. He needs to be on the field. That's a good thing. Now where? That's what we have to figure out.”


The Cubs did make one significant move this winter, signing Japanese free agent Shota Imanaga to a four-year, $53 million contract.

Over eight seasons with Yokohama in Nippon Professional Baseball, Imanaga was 64-50 with a 3.18 ERA.

The 30-year-old lefty joins Justin Steele, Jameson Taillon and Kyle Hendricks in the starting rotation. Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks are the leading contenders to fill the No. 5 spot, so the Cubs are pretty much set with starters.

“That's an area we probably don't make another transaction,” Hoyer said. “I think if we do, it may be smaller. Something could fall in our lap. We could end up with something, but that's not my expectation right now.”

Michael Busch

The Cubs have been anything but active during the off-season, but Jan. 11 was a busy day.

In addition to signing Imanaga, the Cubs acquired Busch in a trade with the Dodgers on that date.

The 26-year-old Busch made his MLB debut with Los Angeles last season and got a brief look during three stints (.167/.247/.292, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 27 games).

In 98 games with Class AAA Oklahoma City, Busch showed his true potential. The left-hander slashed .323/.431/.618 with 27 home runs and 90 RBI.

Primarily a second baseman over four seasons in the minor leagues, it looks like Busch is going to play first for the Cubs.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder's bat could be a difference maker.

“He is a player that has essentially conquered the minor leagues,” Counsell said. “He's going to get an opportunity. He's going to have to perform, but he's going to get an opportunity.”

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