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Cubs free agent target: Cody Bellinger

The Cubs would do well to bring him back.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

I already wrote a long article here in October about Cody Bellinger and why I’d like to see the Cubs bring him back via the free-agent route. So I’m not going to belabor all that again; you can just read the earlier article for details.

What I do want to look at is the MLB Trade Rumors estimate for what Bellinger might get in free agency. They say 12 years and $264 million and here’s their reasoning:

Brandon Nimmo reset the center field market with a $20.25MM annual value over eight seasons from the Mets at age 30. He’d never reached Bellinger’s MVP heights, although he’d also never experienced anything like his downturn. Nimmo’s deal ran through age 37. Bogaerts was paid through 40 off a very similar platform showing to Bellinger’s 2023, albeit with more career consistency.

We’re betting on Bellinger’s youth winning out. Bogaerts, Machado, Turner and Rafael Devers all signed decade-long deals last winter as teams sought to diminish the AAV. An 11-year or 12-year pact could be on the table. A $22MM AAV over 12 years would narrowly beat Nimmo’s annual salaries while pushing past $250MM total.

Bellinger is 28. A 12-year deal would tie him to the Cubs through age 40. The “decade-long deals” MLBTR refers to from last year were crafted mainly to reduce the AAV by extending these contracts to years beyond which the player would be productive, paying him more in the early years, less in the later years. There is some merit to this sort of thing. But I wonder if the “decade-long deal,” or 12 years in this case (and also what MLBTR predicted for Shohei Ohtani) was just a peculiar thing done last year and won’t be repeated.

The AAV of such a deal would be $22 million, which honestly is perfectly reasonable for someone of Bellinger’s talents. As MLBTR points out, there are some caveats to Bellinger’s very good 2023 season:

It’d be simplistic to say Bellinger is back to his MVP form. He homered in 4.7% of his plate appearances this year after connecting on a big fly 6% of the time during his first three seasons. Bellinger’s batted ball metrics are uninspiring. His 31.4% hard contact rate (defined as an exit velocity of 95 MPH or higher) is almost nine percentage points below league average; it’s well down from the 45% range at which he has squaring balls up during his MVP season.

This is all true. He didn’t have a lot of hard contact during 2023, and yet had very good results, setting a career high for BA (.307) and posting his third-best SLG and OPS, those numbers behind only his Rookie of the Year season and MVP season.

Bellinger missed a month with a freak knee injury suffered when colliding with a wall in Houston, so I don’t think “injury-prone” is something you can call him. He can play both first base and center field well, though perhaps not at Gold Glove level. Presuming Pete Crow-Armstrong eventually takes over in center field for the Cubs, Bellinger would be a long-term solution at first base. His skillset would seem to be one that would age well.

At a $22 million AAV, this sort of contract would be affordable for the Cubs. I’m leery about deals that go that long, but at least last offseason it was the thing all the “cool teams” were doing.

I’d like Bellinger back. He seemed to enjoy his time as a Cub and Jed Hoyer & Co. made no secret of the fact that they’d like him to return as well.

That contract just might work. Would you do it?


Cody Bellinger...

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a contract like the one MLBTR proposed
    (260 votes)
  • 61%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but for a different dollar amount and/or years
    (534 votes)
  • 7%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (69 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (7 votes)
870 votes total Vote Now