With Shohei Ohtani signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers; the Dodgers likely on the verge of trading for Tyler Glasnow; and the Cubs likely already out of the sweepstakes for Japanese starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Cody Bellinger has emerged as the popular name name in the Cubs' rumor mill.
After all, this off-season is playing out exactly in the way that the Cubs needed if they were to bring back Bellinger on a long-term deal. The Cubs missed on their primary target in Ohtani while the San Francisco Giants found their superstar outfielder in KBO MVP Jung Hoo Lee.
We've already talked in length about how if the Cubs are going to add an impact bat this off-season, Bellinger is the likeliest of options.
What hasn't been fully discussed is the impact that Bellinger returning to the Cubs would have in the clubhouse.
While the Cubs were buyers at the Major League Baseball Trade Deadline this past season, this is a team that has grown accustomed to having their leaders traded at the in-season. The expectation during the first half of the 2023 season was that the Cubs were going to trade Bellinger and starting pitcher Marcus Stroman at the deadline.
The front office decided to buy with their additions of third baseman Jeimer Candelario and relief pitcher Jose Cuas and while they ultimately missed the playoffs, there was a morale boost due to those moves being made.
There likely would be another morale boost if the team brings back Bellinger on a long-term deal. After all, that was presumably the implication of Adbert Azolay's tweet on Wednesday.
While Bellinger was not specifically mentioned by Alzolay, it's safe to say that the Cubs' closer was indeed referring to the 2023 National League Comeback Player of the Year.
The Cubs' 2023 season featured a successful core that included Bellinger, shortstop Dansby Swanson, second baseman Nico Hoerner, and left fielder Nico Hoerner. Hoerner and Happ signed contract extensions with the team this past season while Swanson has six years remaining on his deal. For a front office that has stressed the importance of consistent success, the next piece of the puzzle is bringing Bellinger back on a long-term deal.
The era of Cubs players expecting their teammates and leaders in the clubhouse to move on after one season should be over. The Cubs can prove that by rewarding a player in Bellinger who became a leader on the team.