The Cody Bellinger contract, Jordan Montgomery’s market and the MLB moves to come

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With spring training in full swing, Jim Bowden answered 20 questions from subscribers on a variety of topics including his take on the Cody Bellinger deal, what he’s hearing about the remaining top free agents, and some early thoughts on the 2024 season.

Note: Questions have been edited for clarity and length.



This was a good contract for both Cody Bellinger and the Cubs, Bowden says. (Sam Navarro / USA Today)

Just saw the Bellinger contract and it blows my mind that clubs do these deals with opt outs. Particularly the way this deal is structured. The Cubs assume all the risk. … The only way it’s a three-year, $80 million deal is if he’s bad or gets hurt. Make the first year for $20 million, then the opt-out years at $30 million. This makes no sense. — Phil L.

The benefit for the club is it gets Bellinger on a short-term deal and is not stuck with a bad contract if he performs like he did with the Dodgers from 2020 to 2022, where over a three-year stretch he hit .220. The club also gets a player who is once again playing for a long-term deal, so Bellinger has a powerful incentive to try to repeat the strong year he had last season for the Cubs, when he hit .307 with 26 home runs, 97 RBIs and 20 stolen bases and won a Silver Slugger Award. In addition, the Cubs have a promising rookie on the way in center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, who will make over $29 million less than Bellinger when he’s major-league-ready. I think this deal works for both sides. Bellinger gets a higher AAV than his value for the first two years and gets to go back on the open market after any of the three years of the contract. The Cubs get a star player without a long-term commitment.

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What we’re hearing about the Cubs’ next steps after signing Cody Bellinger

Now that one of the unsigned free agents represented by Scott Boras accepted a pillow contract, what are the chances his other clients follow suit? Is there any chance the Cardinals sign Jordan Montgomery to a similar deal — maybe something like a four-year, $85 million contract, with year one at $25 million, then three consecutive player options at $20 million per year. Montgomery’s time in St. Louis helped him build his value and (Busch Stadium) is a pitcher’s park, which should keep his numbers strong. — Dan S.

From what I’m hearing in conversations with major-league sources, it doesn’t sound like Montgomery will accept a pillow contract like the one Bellinger signed. I’m told there are multiple teams that would give Montgomery a longer-term contract. The Red Sox had a video call with Montgomery recently and I’m told the conversation went well. The Red Sox have plenty of financial flexibility and at this point must be considered the front-runner to land him. However, it’s believed Montgomery would prefer to re-sign with Texas and if he were to accept a shorter-term deal, I think the Rangers are the only team where that could happen and he’d at least consider that type of offer. Also, it doesn’t sound like Montgomery is interested in a return to St. Louis, and the Cardinals have already signed three free-agent starters (Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn) this offseason.

I would appreciate some insight into the thought process that goes into how the Yankees compare and assess a choice of signing Blake Snell versus Montgomery. According to reports, they have made a significant offer to Snell. But there are no reports of an offer to Montgomery by the Yankees. — Lee G.

The Yankees really believe in the adjustments that Snell made last year on the mound, which led to him winning the NL Cy Young Award, and they think he has a higher ceiling than Montgomery. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t necessarily bring back Montgomery, but it’s believed that he does not prefer a reunion with the Yankees. However, you can’t rule it out until he signs somewhere else.

The Blue Jays couldn’t possibly go into the season without an everyday third baseman — do you get the sense they’re just waiting/hoping for Matt Chapman’s price and term requests to decrease, or do you think general manager Ross Atkins has a big trade up his sleeve? — Julius P.

The Blue Jays have remained consistent that they want to bring back Chapman, but they’ve also been consistent with how they value him, and I think it’s unlikely they change their view on the money or years they’re willing to commit to him. The Giants and Angels have also expressed interest in Chapman, so we’ll see if someone budges. I do think the structure of Bellinger’s contract could be a blueprint for Chapman’s next deal, but for less money.

If Kodai Senga is out for the season, is there a path forward for the Mets? Do they need to go “all-in” on Snell or what trade would make sense considering their rotation is very sketchy without him? — Will D.

The Mets are a middle-of-the-pack team; I ranked them accordingly, as 17th best in the league, entering spring training — and that was with Senga leading their rotation. Right now I have them as the fourth-best team in the NL East. I just don’t think the Mets have the starting pitching to be better than that this year. I’m not sure I understand why the Mets are not in on Snell or Montgomery because they are both 31 years old and would still be viable arms when New York was ready to contend again in a couple of years.

Are the Guardians still looking to trade Shane Bieber? What is a realistic trade for Bieber? — Michael A.

Bieber will be a free agent after this season and there’s been no traction between him and the Guardians on a contract extension to this point. Therefore, the Guardians will keep an open mind on any trade proposals they receive from teams between now and the trade deadline. Bieber has had injuries in two of the past three years and last season made just 21 starts, posting a 3.80 ERA in 128 innings. The Guardians believe he will have a lot more trade value if he gets off to a strong start, his stuff bounces back and he stays healthy. (For that reason, I won’t offer a trade scenario at this point.) I do think there’s a shot they move him, but it’s more likely to happen closer to the trade deadline.

Orioles fan here … now that our team will have new ownership, we’re hoping David Rubenstein will spend more money on player salaries than the Angelos family did. Mostly, we hope our young stars such as Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson — and probably Jackson Holliday soon — are signed to long-term deals. Since they’re still years from free agency, what would a long-term deal look like for each of them? — Jay D.

I am in total agreement about prioritizing extensions for Rutschman, Henderson and Holliday, but it won’t be easy. Henderson and Holliday are represented by Boras, whose clients often wait for free agency to maximize their value. The contracts would likely need to be in the range of Bobby Wit Jr.’s 11-year, $289 million contract.

It’s late July and the Blue Jays are out of the race. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have two playoff runs before they reach free agency. If you are the GM of the Blue Jays, what are you doing? — Marc O.

I’m going to do everything I can to sign both of them to long-term contracts, with Bichette being the top priority. If I get to the point where I believe it’s not going to happen and the Blue Jays are out of the race, I would start to see what I could get back in trades and consider them. However, I wouldn’t be feeling any urgency and would only trade them if it’s going to benefit the club in the short term and long term. I’d still have another chance to trade one or both in the offseason. My preference would be to extend both and that would be a priority.

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Don’t sleep on the Rays. (Kim Klement Neitzel / USA Today)

Is this the season that the smoke and mirrors of the Rays fail them and they finish out of the playoffs? — Robert S.

The Rays are going to be in the race all season long but they will certainly miss Tyler Glasnow, whom they traded to the Dodgers, and Wander Franco, who is on trial for physical and sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of a minor. However, the rest of the AL East has roster issues, too. The Orioles are dealing with injuries to Kyle Bradish and John Means in the rotation, The Yankees need their starting pitchers to stay healthy and provide innings, and there are big unknowns in that regard after Gerrit Cole. The Blue Jays’ offense still has questions and the Red Sox look like a last-place club again. The Rays know how to build teams. I think they’ll be competitive and stay in the playoff race all year.

Can you give us any indication of what Red Sox ownership is thinking? This offseason was supposed to be “full throttle” and it obviously hasn’t lived up to those remarks. What are they doing? — Xan P.

What are some reasons to be optimistic about the Red Sox? — Derrick E.

The addition of Theo Epstein to the ownership group is the best thing that’s happened to the Red Sox this offseason, and it’s fallen a bit under the radar due to the focus on their other offseason moves. Epstein, of course, is a Hall of Fame-worthy executive who won two World Series championships with Boston and one with Chicago. And, even though he’s behind the scenes in his new role, he’ll be asking the right questions and helping Boston’s baseball operations staff make winning decisions. He’ll be a smart, positive voice in the ears of team owner John Henry and team chairman Tom Werner. So let’s wait and see — with more time, that ownership addition should have an impact.

In terms of reasons to be optimistic, start with the infield. They have a strong, young right side of the infield with Triston Casas at first and Vaughn Grissom at second. Casas is a 25 to 30 home run bat and Grissom will eventually join the 20/20 club (steals and homers). Shortstop Trevor Story is finally healthy and Rafael Devers is one of the best third basemen in baseball. Alex Cora is also one of the best in the business and a world championship-winning manager. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still predicting they finish in last place, mainly because I don’t trust their starting pitching (at this point) or the outfield configuration.

It seems like the Nationals’ offense could be pretty rough and they lack starting pitching depth. Could you see a late move for a veteran like Eddie Rosario or C.J. Cron? Starting pitching-wise, does an addition like Mike Clevinger or Michael Lorenzen make sense to eat innings? — Greg D.

The Nationals are rebuilding and don’t want to bring in veterans who could block players who will be part of their future. They’re pleased with the progress of pitchers Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore and are hoping Cade Cavalli will stay healthy and, along with their other top pitching prospect, Jackson Rutledge, will eventually join the rotation this season. Their lineup is solid at the top with the emergence of shortstop CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas, who had a breakout season last year. Joey Meneses adds pop and they’re hoping catcher Keibert Ruiz and second baseman Luis García Jr. show offensive improvement this year. The Nationals took a chance on former Red Nick Senzel, whom they signed to a one-year deal and are giving a shot to be their everyday third baseman. However, the biggest thing for their offense this year will be the promotions of top outfield prospects James Wood and Dylan Crews, whom they hope will both debut at some point this year.

The Brewers seem to be very good at developing closers. If Devin Williams gets traded, is Abner Uribe good enough to be that guy long term? His sinker is disgusting but he needs to reel in the walks a bit. — Joe K.

If the Brewers decide to trade Williams before Opening Day, I think Joel Payamps would get the first shot at being their next closer. Uribe has the potential to develop into a closer, but he must improve his command and control before being considered for that role.

If you could wave a magic wand and unilaterally change one thing about MLB, what would it be? — David H.

I would implement a salary floor and cap and more fairly share industry revenues.

Prediction time: Which team will Juan Soto be playing for on Opening Day 2025? — Don K.

I’m going with the Yankees. I think he’ll love playing in New York and that the love will be mutual.

How on earth are the new uniforms such a debacle? Who is to blame? — Daniel G.

I’m surprised that the new uniforms were approved based on the small sample of players’ feedback from the All-Star Game last July in Seattle. It’s perplexing that the decision-makers would go with see-through pants that are so tight and uncomfortable. There is plenty of blame to go around, from MLB to the MLB Players Association to Nike to Fanatics. However, I’m not a big fan of the Blame Game; I prefer the Fix It Game. I’m hoping all sides figure out a way to make the uniforms better so it’s no longer an issue come Opening Day.

What are your thoughts on why more early-round MLB Draft picks are making it to the bigs earlier than before and making an impact? It seems like 15-plus years ago the draft was a crapshoot. Lately, draft picks are highly valued and many contribute to a roster relatively quickly. Is it a better pool of prospects, better scouting/development, or a higher focus on building from within? — Phil B.

That’s a great question, Phil. It starts with the better coaching, technology and analytics that are available to players at the amateur level, from Little League to high school to junior college to college. In addition, major-league teams have much better ways of evaluating talent than ever before. That combination has made it so clubs are much more likely to get it right.

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Ethan Salas is only 17 but already garnering high praise. (Tracy Proffitt / Four Seam Images via Associated Press)

I was once in a suite at a baseball game and Peter Gammons was there. I asked him a question I want to ask you: Are there any minor leaguers whom you can envision becoming Hall of Famers? If so, who? (Gammons looked me in the eye and answered instantly: “Joe Mauer and Grady Sizemore.”) — Biff P.

Jackson Holliday and Ethan Salas.

Almost 40 years ago when I was a young sportswriter and you were an even younger media relations executive for the Pirates, I used to talk to you on the phone now and then about my friend Stan Fansler, who made it to the majors in 1986 before a rotator cuff injury derailed his career. Surgery and rehab have come a long way since (then). Who are some players whose promising careers have been set back by injuries but may be ready to surprise in spring training and possibly contribute (more meaningfully) to their big-league clubs this season? — Rick W.

Hi, Rick. I’ll go with Cade Cavalli of the Nationals, Chris Paddack and Byron Buxton of the Twins, Eloy Jiménez and Michael Kopech of the White Sox and Triston McKenzie of the Guardians.

When you were GM of the Reds, what gave you the most satisfaction on a daily basis? What did you love most about the job? — Mark R.

The relationships with people in the front office, field staff, player development, scouting departments, the players, and working with ownership. The collaborative approach to decision-making. Most importantly, I loved being able to share the GM experiences with my children.

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Bowden: 5 MLB managers on the hot seat to start the 2024 season

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Bowden: 6 contending teams that still need to make a major move, starting with the Yankees

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MLB power rankings: Braves, Dodgers, O’s are 1-2-3 as spring training starts, season beckons

(Top photo of Jordan Montgomery: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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