Cody Bellinger has declined his end of a mutual option with the Cubs, the team informed reporters (including Meghan Montemurro of the Chicago Tribune). He receives a $5MM buyout and officially becomes a free agent. Chicago also announced they’ve declined their end of a $5MM mutual option on reliever Brad Boxberger. He collects an $800K buyout.
Both moves were straightforward. Bellinger signed a one-year guarantee last offseason after being non-tendered by the Dodgers. His goal was to turn in a rebound campaign that allowed him to get back to the open market this winter. Bellinger followed through with a resurgent year, blasting 26 homers with a .307/.356/.525 showing. Aside from a month-long absence due to a left knee contusion, it would’ve been hard to draw up a much better season.
That makes taking the option buyout a formality. Bellinger is the clear #2 position player on the free agent market. Going into his age-28 campaign, he could find a deal approaching or exceeding a decade in length. The Cubs will make him a $20.325MM qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline. Bellinger will decline, thereby entitling Chicago to draft compensation if he signs with another team.
The Cubs have top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong as a potential successor in center field. They nevertheless figure to make an effort at retaining the 2019 NL MVP, although teams like the Giants, Yankees and Mariners could join them in the bidding.
Chicago signed Boxberger to a $2.8MM free agent deal last offseason. The veteran righty was limited to 22 contests by a pair of injuries, including a forearm strain that ended his season in September. Over 20 innings, he pitched to a 4.95 ERA with a modest 20.2% strikeout rate and an elevated 13.1% walk percentage. The 35-year-old might be limited to minor league offers this winter.