The Cubs and center fielder Cody Bellinger came together on a one-year deal last offseason after Bellinger was non-tendered by the Dodgers that November. The deal went exceptionally well for both sides as Bellinger bounced back to his previous, All Star-caliber form with a .307/.356/.525 slash line in 130 games last year before returning to the open market earlier this winter. Since, then, Bellinger’s market has been a surprisingly quiet one. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand provided an update on the 28-year-old’s free agency today, suggesting that it’s a “widespread belief” in the industry that Bellinger will return to the north side when all is said and done this winter.
Even so, Feinsand makes clear that no deal is considered close between the two sides. While Bellinger is known to be seeking north of $200MM in free agency this winter, Feinsand indicates that Chicago brass is “showing restraint” in their bids for Bellinger’s services given the lack of aggressive suitors pursuing the offseason’s top free agent outfielder. While the report suggests the Blue Jays, Angels, Giants, Mets, and Mariners could all be possible suitors for the slugger’s services, Feinsand makes clear that those teams are likely only interested in the event that Bellinger’s price tag drops considerably below his current asking price.
It’s easy to see the fit for Bellinger in Chicago. While the club added infielder Michael Busch in a trade with the Dodgers this winter, giving the 26-year-old a likely inside track for the club’s wide-open first base job, the club still suffers from a relative lack of left-handed power and the return of Bellinger could help to fill the vacuum. What’s more, his 134 wRC+ last year led the team as they fell just a game short of returning to the playoffs in a full season for the first time since 2018, and his departure would leave a hole in the middle of the club’s order unless he was replaced with another quality bat.
That being said, if Bellinger were to patrol center field on a regular basis that would seemingly block top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong, who made his major league debut last September with a profile highlighted by his defensive wizardry in center. While Crow-Armstrong may benefit from more development time at the Triple-A level (where he’s logged just 34 career appearances) after he went hitless in his first 19 trips to the plate in the majors last fall, the presence of Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ on long-term deals in the outfield corners could complicate the Cubs’ long-term outlook in the outfield if Bellinger does return.
More notes from the north side of Chicago…
- As relayed by The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney, veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks recently noted that, contrary to rumors that percolated this past autumn, the sides did not discuss a potential multi-year deal before the Cubs picked up his club option back in November. Hendricks added that the sides similarly haven’t made any sort of progress on a hypothetical contract extension in the months since. The 34-year-old has spent his entire major league career with the Cubs and rebounded from a pair of injury-marred seasons to post a solid 3.74 ERA and 3.81 FIP in 24 starts for the club last year. The longest-tenured player remaining on the big league roster, Hendricks figures to reach free agency for the first time in his career next winter if the sides don’t reach an agreement before then. In the event Hendricks does depart after the 2024 campaign, it could create openings in the club’s rotation for a number of young pitchers including Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad, and top pitching prospect Cade Horton.
- While the Cubs have typically avoided committing to free agent relievers on multi-year deals in recent years, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer recently indicated that the club may be willing to go out of its comfort zone in order to bolster the bullpen this winter. As relayed by The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma, Hoyer noted that the Cubs have made “some” multiyear offers to bullpen arms in free agency this offseason before going on to emphasize that bolstering the club’s relief corps is a focus for the team headed into 2024. With Josh Hader and Robert Stephenson having recently come off the market, the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Matt Moore, David Robertson and Hector Neris represent the best remaining bullpen options in free agency.