As the free agent market heats up, Cody Bellinger emerges as the clear number two position player on the radar of several major league teams. The New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants stand out as the most speculated contenders for Bellinger's prowess, a narrative gaining momentum in the offseason's early weeks.
The Yankees' interest in Bellinger, particularly in their quest for left-handed hitting outfielders, is evident. Simultaneously, under the leadership of Farhan Zaidi, President of Baseball Operations, the Giants are looking to bolster their outfield defense, with a particular emphasis on center field.
Notable sports journalists Jon Heyman of the New York Post and Jesse Rogers of ESPN confirm that Bellinger is a key target for San Francisco. While the links to both the Yankees and Giants are strong, the stance of Bellinger's current team, the Cubs, remains somewhat ambiguous.
Heyman identifies the Cubs, alongside the Yankees and Giants, as frontrunners in the Bellinger sweepstakes. In contrast, Rogers expresses skepticism about the Cubs' willingness to engage in a high-stakes bidding war for the 28-year-old outfielder.
He points to the Cubs' potential focus on Shohei Ohtani, a coveted two-way star, hinting that Chicago might prioritize Ohtani over re-signing Bellinger.
Cubs' Strategic Shift
The strategic decision for the Cubs to possibly let Bellinger go could align with their long-term vision.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, a rising star in the organization, is pegged as the future center fielder, making his major league debut in late 2023 following impressive performances in the minors. With Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki locked in for the corner outfield positions and Bellinger's value predominantly in center field defense, the Cubs might be considering a shift in their roster composition.
A remarkable rebound marked Bellinger's tenure with the Cubs. After a challenging stint with the Dodgers, he secured a $17.5 million deal with Chicago, delivering an impressive .307/.356/.525 slash line, 26 home runs, and 20 stolen bases over 556 plate appearances.
Bellinger notably reduced his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.6%. However, his lower hard contact rate, just 31.4%, might give some teams pause for thought. Having declined a qualifying offer and the mutual option for 2024 with the Cubs, Bellinger's departure would yield Chicago a compensatory pick, adding another layer of intrigue to this free-agency saga.
For the team that signs him, the cost will be in dollars and draft and international bonus space, which could influence the final decision in this high-stakes offseason chase.