With superstar slugger Shohei Ohtani now off the board after signing on with the Dodgers, the market has seemingly begun to come into focus for center fielder Cody Bellinger, the clear #2 position player on the free agent market this offseason. According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, Bellinger and agent Scott Boras are seeking “$200MM plus” in contract talks this winter.
That Bellinger is in position to even approach that figure is nothing short of incredible given the brutal fashion his time in LA came to an end. The outfielder dealt with shoulder, rib, and leg injuries throughout the 2021 season and struggled badly when he managed to take the field that season, posting an abysmal .165/.240/.302 slash line across 350 trips to the plate that season. While he was able to avoid the injured list in 2022, the diminished results lingered as he slashed just .210/.265/.389, prompting the Dodgers to non-tender him last offseason.
Not long after being non-tendered, Bellinger took a one-year deal with the Cubs and entered the 2023 campaign hoping to rebuild his value ahead of another trip to the open market after the season. He certainly succeeded in that effort, slashing .307/.356/.525 while earning a top ten finish in NL MVP voting and the second Silver Slugger award of his career. While this new-look Bellinger came with potential red flags regarding his quality of contact in 2023, MLBTR nonetheless projected him for a twelve-year, $264MM deal in our annual Top 50 MLB free agents list, the second-highest projected guarantee after Ohtani.
Since then, many of Bellinger’s potential suitors on the free agent market have gone in other directions. The Yankees landed a trio of left-handed hitting outfielders in Juan Soto, Trent Grisham, and Alex Verdugo on the trade market, seemingly leaving no room for Bellinger on their roster. Meanwhile, the Giants recently landed outfielder Jung Hoo Lee on a six-year, $113MM contract. While it’s certainly feasible that San Francisco could have the resources available to land Bellinger as well, between the club’s existing outfield logjam and need for pitching, it seems more likely that the club would pursue top arms like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, and Shota Imanaga than double up on talent in center field with a Bellinger signing.
That’s not to say that Bellinger’s market is completely devoid of suitors, of course. The Blue Jays haven’t been shy about their pursuit of a top-of-the-market lefty slugger this offseason, and Bellinger is the clear best player available to fill that niche with both Ohtani and Soto now off the board. Given that, it’s no surprise that Heyman suggests that Toronto is “expected to be a player” for Bellinger this offseason. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale takes things a step further, suggesting that the Blue Jays could be a “favorite” for the 28-year-old’s services this winter. Looking beyond Toronto, both Heyman and Nightengale also indicate that the incumbent Cubs could be a factor in Bellinger’s market this offseason while Nightengale also suggests the Padres as a potential suitor.
Any interest from Chicago or San Diego seemingly comes with caveats, however. The Padres are reportedly facing severe financial constrains and hope to duck under the luxury tax in 2024, and committing $200MM or more to Bellinger would eat away most of the savings the club procured by dealing Soto and Grisham to the Bronx earlier this month. Meanwhile, reports from Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney of The Athletic indicate that the Cubs could prefer to wait out the market and see if Bellinger “falls” to them on a more palatable deal than the outfielder’s current price tag. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have no such apparent financial restraints or reservations. Of course, it’s possible that another team in need of outfield help such as the Mariners could jump into the fray and change the outlook of Bellinger’s market as the offseason continues.