How Cody Bellinger’s addition will affect position battles and roster decisions

MESA, Ariz. – As spring training progressed without any resolution to Cody Bellinger’s free agency, the Cubs added left-handed depth to first base and the outfield.

With the Cubs and Bellinger agreeing to a three-year, $80 million contract, the landscape of those position battles has changed.

Manager Craig Counsell wouldn’t comment directly about Bellinger’s deal because it isn’t yet official, but he addressed the topic Sunday in general terms.

“Everyday players, multi-position players, they do a lot for your position group,” Counsell said. “So, those are very valuable players, and so obviously that changes a lot of what you think about your position group.”

The outfield is particularly crowded. As long as they’re all healthy, left fielder Ian Happ, right fielder Seiya Suzuki and Bellinger will be a lock for the Opening Day roster. That leaves Mike Tauchman, prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario, and non-roster invitee David Peralta up for the remaining outfield spots.

Canario, the lone right-handed batter in that group, will move all around the outfield this spring.

“The outfield could get a little tighter here,” Counsell said. “But obviously, his value as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching — we’ll figure out, where does that fit in the lineup and what position?”

During Cubs Convention in January, Crow-Armstrong said he hoped Bellinger would re-sign because he could help the team win. Crow-Armstrong has known Bellinger since before he joined the Cubs last year, through mutual friends.

“It was the first thing I heard when I woke up this morning, so it was a nice little alarm clock,” Crow-Armstrong said of the Bellinger news. “That’s what we’ve all been waiting for.”

Bellinger’s addition could affect Crow-Armstrong’s playing time and development plan, but he’s saying the right things.

“He doesn’t just say the right things, he believes the right things,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said.

Swanson cited a long phone conversation he had with Crow-Armstrong a few weeks ago, when Swanson was struck by the questions the rookie was asking and his commitment to helping the team in any capacity.

“This is how it works on a good team,” Counsell said. “You’ve got to fight your way into a lineup, and you’ve got to earn it. And there’s still plenty of opportunity there for Pete. There’s still plenty of room for him to improve. … Those players try to force their way in. And that’s where Pete sits right now, and still with that opportunity.”

At first base, Michael Busch and Patrick Wisdom have both been taking reps. That’s expected to continue, even when Bellinger joins the team.

Busch has yet to get in a game. He had some shoulder soreness early in camp, Counsell said, and the Cubs were being careful with him. But he is penciled into the lineup Monday.

Counsell wants Wisdom to continue to get more comfortable at first, knowing he has plenty of experience at third base to fall back on.

The Cubs also signed first baseman Dom Smith to a non-roster invite deal last week. He underwent hamate bone surgery this offseason.

The Cubs will need to clear a 40-man roster spot for Bellinger.

Padres 7, Cubs 0

  • More regulars joined the starting lineup on Sunday. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, second baseman Nico Hoerner and catcher Yan Gomes made their 2024 Cactus League debuts. Right fielder Seiya Suzuki and first baseman Michael Busch have yet to see game action this spring.
  • In the top of the third inning, the Padres’ Kyle Higashioka hit a screaming line drive off Cubs reliever Daniel Palencia. But third baseman Christopher Morel made a diving catch to rob Higashioka of a base hit. Palencia doffed his cap to Morel.
  • After scoring eight runs in each of their first two spring training games, the Cubs (2-1) only managed three hits Sunday. Gomes, non-roster invitee Bryce Windham and minor-leaguer Brett Bateman each recorded one.
  • Right-hander Javier Assad started for the Cubs and allowed three runs, two of which were earned, in 1 ⅓ innings.
  • On deck: Cubs at Royals, 2:05 p.m. Monday, Surprise, Hayden Wesneski vs. Seth Lugo.

— Maddie Lee

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