Without Cody Bellinger, the Cubs wouldn't have held onto legitimate postseason hopes until late September. The likely NL Comeback Player of the Year capitalized on the one-year deal he signed with Chicago last winter, using it as a springboard to prove he was not only healthy, but still an elite player in the game - setting himself up for a major payday as he hits free agency again this offseason.
It's hard to say what his next contract will look like because, despite his impressive 2023 performance, he does come with question marks, as well. Injuries derailed his career with the Dodgers, to the point they cut ties with the former Rookie of the Year and MVP, forcing him into a one-year, prove-it deal with the Cubs. That won't be overlooked by prospective suitors.
Still, he's got a lot working for him: he's just 28 years old, plays elite defense at not one, but two positions, runs well and has a bat that you can build a lineup around. All that could culminate in a monster contract, according to MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes.
"I have seen suggestions that a team could sign Bellinger for $150MM this winter. My guess, without talking to Boras, is that the agent has a number roughly twice that high as a target. Bellinger has youth, the ability to play a premium defensive position, elite offense in his contract year, and an MVP award on his shelf. He’s also reaching free agency in a market devoid of MVP-caliber position player talent, aside from Shohei Ohtani. Right now, I’m setting my expectations north of $250MM."- Tim Dierkes on Cody Bellinger
Cubs could have to go in uncharted waters to retain Cody Bellinger
Last offseason, Chicago brought in Dansby Swanson on a seven-year, $177 million deal - the smallest given out to any of the four superstar free agent shortstops available. That deal worked out quite well in its first year, with Swanson turning in a 4.9 fWAR season - the second-best of his big league career.
But even that wasn't the biggest deal in Cubs free agent history - that honor belongs to Jason Heyward, who signed a record eight-year, $184 million contract with Chicago on the heels of a monster year with the Cardinals in 2015. Of course, that deal proved to be one of the biggest busts in baseball history and seemingly left a bad taste in ownership's mouth.
Thankfully, that deal is now officially off the books and the Cubs, outside of Swanson, have a completely clean slate long-term. In theory, that puts the front office in the perfect position to land a high-dollar player this winter, whether that come via a blockbuster trade or a big free agent splash.
Do the Cubs (or any team, really) trust in the results Bellinger produced in 2023? We'll find out in the coming months. But Chicago could find itself quickly priced out (strictly through their self-imposed limits on free agent contracts both in terms of dollars and length) - which would necessitate some creativity on the part of Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins if the Opening Day lineup is to represent a step forward come March.