It’s pretty ironic that Cody Bellinger was named NL Comeback Player of the Year since, you know, he most likely won’t be coming back to Chicago. But hey, he did exactly what he was hoping for when he eschewed multiyear deals to rebuild his value in a single season with the Cubs. Following three disappointing campaigns with the Dodgers that saw him struggle through shoulder and leg injuries, the former Rookie of the Year and MVP was non-tendered in late 2022.
The Cubs were able to snap him up on a one-year deal worth $17.5 million and the rest is (very brief) history. Bellinger’s 4.1 fWAR in 2023 is nearly one full run higher than he’d put up in the three previous seasons combined (3.2) and his .307 batting average was the highest of his career. Just as impressive was the speed with which he ingratiated himself to the organization and fans with his even-keel attitude and immaculate vibes.
I suppose I should note here that this is actually Bellinger’s second CPoY award after previously taking home the MLBPA’s vote. This one was based on the votes of MLB.com’s beat reporters.
There was a strong sense during the season that the Cubs would try to re-sign the resurgent star, though that faded pretty quickly as free agency drew nigh. What some call cheap is more a matter of the front office sensing a potential bidding war that may result in a contract that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For as good as Bellinger was last year, there are some questions about his ability to maintain a high level of performance given his recent history and anemic batted-ball results.
As noted here and elsewhere, however, his excellent two-strike approach and imperviousness to platoon splits should buoy his numbers even if the power diminishes quicker than you’d like. And hey, it’s also possible that he bulks up a little and keeps that ISO number above .200 for years to come. But when it comes to someone potentially earning the biggest contract in club history, the Cubs need a little more than just a great dude who’s also a very good ballplayer.
Barring a collapse of his market and some other developments in free agency, it’s hard to imagine Bellinger being blown back to the Windy City. Here’s to hoping he gets paid handsomely while the Cubs make a big splash or two elsewhere and then make good on the extra draft pick they’ll get due to Bellinger’s declination of the qualifying offer.