It was around this time last summer that Chicago Cubs fans began speculating about potential off-season targets for the team and center fielder Cody Bellinger was emerging as a potential candidate.
There was a growing expectation that Bellinger would be non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers and a team like the Cubs would be the ideal spot for the former 2019 National League Most Valuable Player as he looks to get his career back on track.
The plan worked.
Not only has Bellinger returned to form with the Cubs this season, it would seem likely that he will garner MVP votes given his impact on the team's post-season hopes.
Entering play on Wednesday, Bellinger is slashing .322/.370/.556 with 20 home rubs and a wRC+ of 146.
For a Cubs team that has been clear with their recent moves--releasing struggling veterans Trey Mancini and Tucker Barnhart with money owed next season--that they have firmly shifted their goals toward winning at the Major League level, there is no cost that the team shouldn't pay in regard to retaining Bellinger this winter.
In the latest Cubs' mailbag with The Athletic, Patrick Mooney continues to suggest that Bellinger will be a priority for the Cubs this winter.
"Bellinger also recognizes that the Cubs have helped put him in a position to succeed. The same soft factors that helped sell Bellinger on joining the Cubs last offseason — trusted hitting coaches, a training complex close to his Arizona home, their reputation as a player-centric organization — are still in place. Going to work at Wrigley Field during a playoff race is also more compelling than listening to the recruiting pitch on Zoom or watching a hype video."- The Athletic
There is no doubt that for Major League Baseball, Shohei Ohtani will define the off-season and the Cubs certainly will throw their hat in that ring because, well, it's Shohei Ohtani. It would seem, however, that the Cubs' biggest focus will be on ensuring that Bellinger remains in Chicago.
Given the unlikelihood of the Cubs signing Ohtani, there is no success this off-season if the team does not sign Bellinger to a contract extension. Much like the team had to land one of the top-four free-agent shortstops last winter, the team has to make sure that Bellinger does not sign elsewhere.