Last winter, we knew if the Cubs were going anywhere in 2023, it would take Cody Bellinger returning to form. OK, I don't think anyone thought he'd be this good, but putting up the subpar numbers he gave the Dodgers the last three years just wasn't going to cut it.
He's given Chicago all they could hope for and then some this season, slashing .329/.379/.559 in 85 games. The only blemish on his record this year is the month he missed with a knee injury, but since returning from the IL, he's been on a level of of his own: .376/.413/.612. He blasted his 18th home run of the year as part of a 2-for-4 effort on Friday, backing Javier Assad's strong start in a Cubs win.
For now, Bellinger and the Cubs are focused on the home stretch. Entering play Saturday, Chicago controls the third NL Wild Card spot - and this has all the makings of a race that'll go right down to the wire. But once the season ends and Bellinger opts out of his end of the 2024 mutual option on his deal, it'll be time for the two sides to talk numbers in free agency.
What kind of price tag will Bellinger command? According to Bob Nightengale, we're talking about a nine-figure commitment - potentially one that could go as high as $150 million.
"His agent is Scott Boras. He's had a big year, so I would think that there will be a massive price tag on him, over $100 million. So I think he's going to be sitting out until next February, signing right around spring training... I wouldn't be surprised if they ask for at least $150 million."- Bob Nightengale on Bellinger
Of course, Chicago shelled out around $300 million in free agency last winter, including a seven-year, $177 million pact with All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson. That is the second-largest deal in Cubs history, trailing only the eight-year, $184 million contract given to Jason Heyward prior to the 2016 campaign.
Cubs have everything they need to re-sign Cody Bellinger
Jed Hoyer extended Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner this spring, keeping both on the North Side through 2026 - the same year Seiya Suzuki's current deal runs through. With top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong on the way and expected to man center field for years to come, the fit is less than perfect, but it's worth remembering that Bellinger is a Gold Glove-caliber defender not only at center, but at first base - which we saw on Friday, when he made a sliding stop on a ball ticketed for the right field corner, instead cutting it off and flipping to Assad for an out.
Given his age (he just turned 28 in July), his versatility and his raw tools, Bellinger could be one of the most sought-after names in free agency next winter. Factor in how weak the position player market is and it's not hard to envision a scenario where he nets well north of $100 million in a new deal. The good news is the Cubs have the resources to be in the thick of the pursuit.