For the past six weeks, the offseason has centered on three individuals: Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. With the first two having found new homes and Yamamoto expected to choose his team within a week or two, there’s likely to be greater attention placed on Cody Bellinger.
MLBTR’s No. 2 free agent entering the winter, Bellinger has had a quiet offseason since declining his end of a mutual option and rejecting a qualifying offer from the Cubs. Early reports tied the lefty-hitting center fielder to the Yankees, Giants and Blue Jays. The incumbents have some amount of interest in a reunion, although the presence of highly-regarded rookie Pete Crow-Armstrong gives them leverage to pass on what’s surely still a lofty asking price.
Last week, the New York Post’s Jon Heyman wrote that Bellinger’s camp at the Boras Corporation was seeking to reach or surpass $200M. Yet it’s fair to presume that the former MVP’s market has dwindled over the past month. Along with Soto, the Yankees acquired Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham to join Aaron Judge in the outfield. San Francisco signed Jung Hoo Lee to play center field instead. That knocks out the two teams widely perceived as the favorites. (At the beginning of the offseason, every MLBTR staffer pegged the Giants or Yankees as Bellinger’s landing spot in our free-agent prediction contest.)
Where does that leave things for the two-time All-Star?
Angels: It’s difficult to identify exactly where the Angels go from here. Los Angeles has thus far limited its offseason activity to a trio of low-cost middle relief additions (Luis García, Adam Cimber and Adam Kolarek). Ohtani was their top priority. After losing him, they’ll need to determine how aggressively to add to a roster that won only 73 games despite his MVP performance. GM Perry Minasian and new skipper Ron Washington have been clear they’re not about to rebuild. Bringing in a front-line starting pitcher appears the top priority, but they’ll also need to address a lineup that ranked 16th in runs and lost a .304/.412/.654 hitter. Bellinger would give the Angels an option to cover center field if Mike Trout needs any time on the injured list. He’d push Mickey Moniak to a fourth outfield role and could take some of the available DH at-bats. He’s also a marquee name who starred in Los Angeles, which could hold appeal to owner Arte Moreno.
Blue Jays: USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote over the weekend that the Jays looked like the top suitor for Bellinger. It’s not hard to see why. The Jays came up empty on their pursuits of Ohtani and Soto. While no one would consider Bellinger the same kind of upgrade, Toronto still has ample short-term payroll space and a need for a left-handed bat. They’re also without a clear answer in center field after Kevin Kiermaier hit free agency. The Jays could sign a corner outfielder and bump Daulton Varsho to center (or simply try to re-sign Kiermaier), but Bellinger is the best all-around position player on the open market.
Cubs: Bellinger was among the Cubs’ most valuable players a season ago. While they may have initially viewed him as a one-year stopgap to Crow-Armstrong, there’s an argument for bringing him back. The Cubs don’t have a clear option at first base, where Bellinger is a plus defender. His ability to play all three outfield spots would afford the organization the flexibility to start Crow-Armstrong in Triple-A (where he struck out at a concerning rate in 34 games last season) without needing to rely on journeyman Mike Tauchman to maintain his surprisingly strong form from 2023. Even if Tauchman and/or Crow-Armstrong prove deserving of everyday playing time, the Cubs could rotate Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki through designated hitters to keep their outfield fresh.
Mets: New York could upgrade over either Starling Marte or DJ Stewart in the corner outfield. There’s room for Bellinger to join Brandon Nimmo as a long-term outfield investment, but it doesn’t seem that’s how the front office is approaching this winter. The Mets are in on Yamamoto but appear to view him as an exceptional case in what’d otherwise be a relatively quiet offseason as they focus primarily on 2025.
Nationals: While Washington isn’t an immediate contender, they could make a legitimate push for the playoffs by the 2025 season. Bellinger, who turned 28 in July, would still project as a productive player during that window. The Nats have top outfield prospects Dylan Crews and James Wood looming, but only Lane Thomas should have a short-term spot locked down. The Nationals struck early on the Jayson Werth signing to accelerate a rebuild a decade ago. There’d be some sense in doing that again, but they’ve been fairly quiet in recent offseasons and still have organizational uncertainty regarding their local TV deal as part of the contentious MASN arrangement with the Orioles.
Phillies: Philadelphia is in on Yamamoto, suggesting an ability to stretch the budget for the right player. Whether Bellinger qualifies isn’t clear. Brandon Marsh is a solid center-field option, while the Phils have Johan Rojas and Cristian Pache as options for the corner opposite Nick Castellanos. It’s not a terrible outfield, but it’s also perhaps the weakest area of an otherwise excellent roster. The Phils haven’t shied away from pursuing star talent under owner John Middleton and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Mariners: Seattle is likely to bring in at least one outfielder to join Julio Rodríguez and a group that otherwise consists of players like Dominic Canzone, Taylor Trammell and Sam Haggerty. Bellinger fits on the roster, but the M’s have thus far sliced payroll amidst uncertainty about the revenues from their local TV deal with Root Sports. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto hasn’t signed a free agent hitter to a multi-year contract in his eight-plus years leading the Seattle front office. Breaking that streak with Bellinger would be a massive shift in operating procedure.
Padres: Much of what applies to the Mariners can be said about the Padres. They want to compete after a disappointing playoff miss. They need outfield help to do so. Yet they’re also facing questions about their broadcasting deal and have only cut payroll so far this offseason. With Lee’s six-year, $113M deal pushing beyond their spending range, it’s hard to see how they could make Bellinger work.
Rangers: The defending World Series winners could ostensibly make room for Bellinger, perhaps by trading incumbent center fielder Leody Taveras to address an injury-plagued rotation. GM Chris Young has suggested they’re unlikely to make the kind of free-agent splash they have in prior offseasons, though, so it’s far likelier they stick with an internal group of Adolis García, Taveras and Evan Carter while awaiting the arrival of top prospect Wyatt Langford.