Rosenthal: How the Cody Bellinger deal could affect Scott Boras' other top free agent clients

It couldn't be what Scott Boras wanted. Now that Cody Bellinger, the first of Boras' four, has reached an agreement on a shorter-than-expected contract, it will only prompt teams to retain Boras' other top free-agent clients.

The opt-outs in Bellinger's three-year, $80 million free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs give him the opportunity to return to the open market next season. Perhaps, he'll make a deal closer to what some predicted for him — six years, $162 million Athletic Tim Britton, 12 years, $264 million per

Carlos Correa followed such a path, opting out of his initial three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Minnesota Twins to take a six-year, $200 million deal. He would have done even better if the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets hadn't cited his physical issues to back out of more than $300 million deals.

Other Boras clients — Adrian Beltre, Dallas Keusel and Mike Moustakas — also took lower contracts early on and then made up most or all of the difference. But to earn such a contract, Bellinger will have to prove himself again. Finished 10th in National League MVP voting and won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

His average annual value of $26.67 million ranks 37th all-time, with Freddie Freeman and Carlos Rodon both below at $27 million. He signed a 10-year, $325 million contract with the Texas Rangers two seasons ago.

Seeger was short, helping his worth. He was also the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and the 2020 World Series MVP. On the other hand, he is coming off a season in which he played in only 95 games because of a fractured right hand. His previous team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, questioned whether he could stay at shortstop. Others wondered about his longevity.

Bellinger won the NL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2023 with the Cubs. (Jeff Robinson/ICON Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bellinger, a center fielder and first baseman, was the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 MVP. He produced a much better platform season than Seager, at least on the surface. But his .307 batting average, 26 home runs and .881 OPS made up for an average exit velocity that exceeded only one in the five major leagues. Bellinger's bounceback is steady, and teams don't believe he's fully overcome the struggles of his injury-plagued 2021 and '22 seasons.

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Part of Bellinger's problem is that he entered a surprisingly moderate market. His options were limited in part by spending cuts by high-paying clubs like the Mets and Padres and the uncertainty many teams face over their future local television revenue. Often, Boras identified at least one group that was willing to spend — and exploited. Except for the Dodgers, who selected non-Boras replacements, no such team has appeared this season.

Competition agents and some club officials would question whether Boras overplayed his hand not only with Bellinger but with other members of the Boras Four, left-handers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery and third baseman Matt Chapman. Boras' initial expectations for Bellinger are unknown, but it's fair to ask: What if he had a lower goal? Could he have gotten four years, $120 million? Five years, $145 million? Still a long contract with a low AAV?

Now that Bellinger's terms are public, it shouldn't be surprising to see Snell, Montgomery and Chapman settle for similar “bridge” deals. San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, whose team could use one of the pitchers and Chapman, couldn't shake his staredown with Boras. Other clubs are less likely to relent.

Boras can blame the downturn in the market, lament clubs in financial retreat and point to the flexibility Bellinger retains in his future. Bellinger, of course, will be fine. Two years ago, the Dodgers didn't tender him. Boras has paid him $97.5 million in guaranteed money, bringing his career earnings to nearly $150 million. Bellinger still has a chance to get a monster contract after this season or next.

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Fair enough. The game is not over. But if you told president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer you were going to sign Bellinger for three years and $80 million, how do you think he would have reacted? With a smile wider than Lake Michigan. The smile he wears today.

(Top image: Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

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