This decision was key in Cody Bellinger returning to the Chicago Cubs

The Cubs' decision to compete at last year's trade deadline paved a path that eventually brought Bellinger back for 2024. Had things gone the other way, Bellinger could have signed a contract with a different team this year.

Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs
Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Chicago Cubs fans are celebrating the return of all-star Cody Bellinger to the team after he finalized a three-year deal over the weekend. However, if the team had made different decisions at last year's trade deadline, Bellinger's return might not have happened.

At the time, the Cubs were sitting a few games below .500 and it wasn't clear if they would be buyers or sellers. But they were gaining momentum in the standings after taking four series in a row against the Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, and two against the St. Louis Cardinals. A monstrous month of July from Bellinger contributed to the ultimate decision to make a playoff push and become buyers.

But at the same time, Bellinger's numbers were exactly why he was the most tradable person on the Cubs last year. A former MVP in the middle of a career resurgence on an expiring contract would have fetched a decent haul if Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer decided to sell. But Hoyer saw enough to convince him the team had a playoff shot in them, and he added players at the August first trade deadline. Although the team missed the playoffs, the long-term implications of keeping Bellinger benefitted the team in the long run.

The Cubs have shown confidence in Bellinger

When it comes to Cody Bellinger questions from the press, Hoyer's favorite answer is that he thinks the world of the center fielder. After a while, it started to sound cheesy and generic, but Hoyer's actions on this front stayed true to his words. Not trading Bellinger showed that Hoyer thought this team could compete with him in the middle of the lineup, and he was right. Bellinger's hitting only improved after the trade deadline when he hit 11 home runs and drove in 51 in August and September. The team did miss the playoffs, but it's hard to pin that on Bellinger when he put up elite numbers down the stretch.

After the season ended, Hoyer continuously said he wanted to bring Bellinger back and he did. It may have taken the entire offseason, and Bellinger didn't get the long-term deal he wanted, but Hoyer still made him the first Cub to earn $30 million a year. There are also opt-outs in the contract, so Bellinger can seek a more significant payday next offseason if he has another great year. It's a deal that benefits both sides but one that I'd consider pretty team-friendly, and I don't think Bellinger would have signed it if the Cubs traded him last year. The Cubs gave Bellinger the benefit of trying to make the playoffs with the team he found his groove with, and he returned the favor by returning on a short-term deal.

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