The Cubs' one-year prove-it deal with Cody Bellinger worked out better than anyone could have hoped, with the former Rookie of the Year and MVP reclaiming the form that made him one of baseball's best players early on in his career.
He joined a pretty exclusive Cubs list during his brief stint on the North Side, joining the 20/20 club for the first time in his career - and, despite missing a month with a knee injury, captured National League Comeback Player of the Year honors, as well.
Despite his bounceback campaign, though, Chicago narrowly missed out on the postseason and head into the offseason needing to not only replace Bellinger's offense (not to mention his defense or baserunning) - but also shore up a roster that's clearly flawed heading into 2024.
A reunion with Bellinger, at least in theory, remains a possibility. But it would take his market cratering over the next few months for it to come to fruition, with Scott Boras reportedly looking for a cool quarter-billion dollars for his client in free agency.
Six weeks ago, Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors guessed Bellinger's market could get to such a level - and it's not hard to see how. Once Shohei Ohtani signs, the teams that missed out on him are going to pivot to the trade market - eyeing up guys like Pete Alonso or Juan Soto to add offense. But Boras and Bellinger are positioned to slow play the market, which they hope will end up in a desperate team shelling out a decade-plus long contract before the dust settles.
Cubs aren't about to pay Cody Bellinger $250 million in free agency
It's very, very hard to envision the Cubs being that team. Jed Hoyer has a longstanding aversion to those types of deals (both in terms of dollars and years) and, while he made as good of a first impression as possible, the simple truth is we're just one year removed from Bellinger being a major question mark after several ineffective seasons due to inury.
With Pete Crow-Armstrong waiting in the wings to take over center field at Wrigley, the Cubs would be far better off doling out a franchise record contract in that range to Yoshinobu Yamamoto (assuming they don't come away with Ohtani) - locking up an elite starting pitcher who's just 25 years old for the forseeable future.
Bellinger checked every box for the Cubs in 2023. But he's not going to be a $250 million guy - at least not in Chicago.
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