After Shohei Ohtani signed with the Dodgers and ended our pipe dream of rooting for the two-way phenom on the North Side, it felt like Cody Bellinger was a must for the Chicago Cubs to have a successful offseason. Fortunately, the pursuit may have just gotten a little easier. The San Francisco Giants, long thought to be among the Cubs' stiffest competition in retaining their star outfielder, is seemingly out of the race.
On Tuesday, the Giants inked a massive six-year, $113 million deal with former KBO MVP Jung Hoo Lee. The move finally secures the Bay area a star after striking out on Ohtani, Carlos Correa, and Aaron Judge over the past two years. Lee's final year in Korea teased the superstar potential with a .318/.406/.455 slash line, even if it didn't match the heights of his .349/.421/.575 line and Golden Glove from 2022. Notably, that deal blows projections for the 25-year-old outfielder out of the water before the posting fee is even calculated. It also comes with an opt-out after four years.
With the Giants now finding an expensive, high-ceiling center field option to roam Oracle Park, Bellinger seems significantly less likely than before. Although San Francisco still has plenty of money to spend, they've also been deeply connected to the starting pitcher market, including superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Their attention could turn to the rotation now in an attempt to get another ace alongside Logan Webb. Considering how important Bellinger is to the Cubs' plans, that could significantly tip the scales in their favor.
Interestingly, the Cubs were one of several teams expressing heavy interest in Lee according to Bob Nightengale, along with the Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres. All three are expected to be in heavily on Bellinger. Nightengale also lumps the Giants in with the crowd as a continued suitor, but it's still hard to see them going quite as crazy now that they have a star outfielder of their own locked up.
The Chicago Cubs still face an uphill battle to retain Bellinger
Of course, the Cubs aren't exactly favorites to bring back their star outfielder/first baseman. The Blue Jays figure to be a huge threat and might be willing to get more uncomfortable to meet Scott Boras's lofty demands. Whiffing on Ohtani, who initially seemed bound for Toronto following a series of reports, has the Jays hungry for a big addition. They, too, are focused on Yamamoto, and missing on him as well would only increase their urgency to add big.
The Padres are an odd addition to the mix, especially after offloading Juan Soto and Trent Grisham to the Yankees. While interest might be there, some of the reporting may be gamesmanship by Boras and company to get the Blue Jays or Cubs (or a mystery team) to bite at a higher price. Whatever the competition for Bellinger is, it feels like the path just became much clearer without the Giants still desperate for star power.
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