The odds of Cody Bellinger returning to the Cubs were seemingly in decline from the moment Jed Hoyer giddily discussed the eventual Comeback Player of the Year’s impact in Chicago. While it was never believed that super-agent Scott Boras would extend a hometown discount of sorts, it seemed like both sides felt like it was a perfect fit for 2023 and maybe beyond. The only problem is that the Cubs tend to be pragmatic to the point of paralysis in free agency, whereas Boras preys on more impulsive front offices.
Bellinger’s perceived value plays a huge role here because at least one team might be willing to outspend everyone for the best free-agent hitter not named Shohei Ohtani. Add in Bellinger’s excellent defense in both center and first, then sprinkle in a dash of solid baserunning before topping it off with a heaping helping of personality and you’ve got a coveted addition to almost any team.
On the other hand, you have to factor in bottom-tier batted ball numbers that call into question Bellinger’s ability to age gracefully into a long-term contract from a power perspective. His impeccable two-strike approach and immunity to platoon splits certainly help, but teams don’t generally shell out huge deals for guys without impact pop.
All things considered, the Cubs may not be willing to push much past $25 million in AAV. It’s even harder to see them agreeing to do more than six years, so some of the early projections made it look like they would not even engage at all. As more people have weighed in, however, the numbers have become much more palatable.
The overall average of seven different predictions from a variety of outlets puts a Bellinger deal at seven years and $171 million ($24.43M AAV). But if we take out the completely outrageous MLB Trade Rumors guess of $264 million over 12 years, the average comes down to around $152.5 million over just a little more than six years ($25.4M AAV). That’s pretty much right at what I’d imagine the Cubs would be comfortable with, so maybe there’s really a good chance Bellinger is back.
The folks at IllinoisBet.com seem to believe so, giving the Cubs hypothetical odds of +200 to bring their star back for an encore. Those odds work out to just over a 33% chance, with the Dodgers next at 20% (+400) and Yankees third at 14.3% (+400). Though I don’t buy that the Cubs have such a strong shot or that the Dodgers should be second on the list, it’s mildly interesting to see a third party weighing in with this opinion.
Things get a little less rosy for the Cubs’ chances when you realize that simply averaging out projections isn’t a great way to judge the market. If Bellinger is looking for the biggest payday and MLB Network’s Jon Morosi is correct that the Cubs “have other priorities,” we can almost guarantee another team is going to step up. Morosi and Bob Nightengale did list the Cubs among the top three teams in contention, though, so keep that in mind.
Even if some of the numbers provide more optimism for a Cubs/Bellinger reunion, I remain very skeptical of that possibility. My money’s on the Yankees in this one.