If the Chicago Cubs front office were to be asked for their best-case scenario this off-season in regard to the moves that they make, chances are that the first task in that scenario would be center fielder Cody Bellinger returning to the team on a long-term deal.
Bellinger will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market this winter and there is no doubt that if the Cubs are going to make the leap from good to great in 2024, the former National League MVP returning to the team would be a move that gets them headed in that direction.
With that said, Bellinger was on the Cubs in 2023 and the team missed the post-season. That is not meant to say that the Cubs shouldn't bring Bellinger but that if they do, the team can't view the veteran outfielder as their main objective this off-season.
That was the premise of Patrick Mooney's latest for The Athletic.
"This offseason plan will have to revolve around the idea of Cody Plus because just bringing back Bellinger after a 4.4 WAR season (per Baseball Reference) might only keep the Cubs around 83 wins. There are different ways to build a team that can win a division title. A top-of-the-rotation starter could have an outsized impact. Bellinger won’t be the only free agent out there if Boras finds another owner willing to underwrite a decade-long megadeal. But equipping the Cubs for next October will likely require two hitters, either Bellinger and another established everyday player or two new additions."- Patrick Mooney via The Athletic
That would be the reason why the idea of the Cubs trading for either Pete Alonso or Juan Soto shouldn't be viewed as their fallback option to not bringing back Bellinger. Bellinger returning to the Cubs would only get them back to the point where they were at the end of the 2023 season and that isn't good enough.
The National League Central division will be there for the taking for the Cubs as they enter the 2024 season, especially with the expectation that Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff will miss most of the season. But, it will be a wasted opportunity for the Cubs if they are complacent and treat the re-signing of Bellinger as their biggest move of the off-season.