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Cubs’ Cody Bellinger named National League Comeback Player of the Year

8 months agoAndy Martinez

Cody Bellinger’s decision to sign with the Cubs was as much a gamble on himself as it was the team taking a risk on him.

Both parties would have felt it was a winning choice.

Bellinger’s peers across the league agreed, too.

Bellinger was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year, as voted on by the National League members of the MLB Players Association. Bellinger had a bounce back year in Chicago, posting an .881 OPS with 26 home runs.

“This whole last offseason, I wanted to prepare myself as best I could and go out and play the game of baseball that I knew I could play,” Bellinger said in a video release by MLBPA Thursday evening. “I’m glad that I was able to go out and show it for myself and for my family. I learned a lot this year. The mental grind, the physical grind, everybody’s road to success is different and everybody’s story is different.”

Bellinger joined the Cubs last offseason after he was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers after three down years in LA. From 2020 to 2022, Bellinger hit .203 with a .648 OPS and 41 home runs in 295 games.

It was a far cry from the player that tore up the league when he debuted in 2017. In his first three seasons with the Dodgers, Bellinger hit .278 with a .928 OPS, 111 home runs and 288 RBI. That culminated in 2019 when he was named the NL MVP.

Bellinger had a down season in the shortened 2020 season after the MVP season, like many players that year. But, in the World Series, Bellinger dislocated his shoulder celebrating a home run with teammate Kiké Hernández. Bellinger played through the injury but that held him back the next season where he hit .165 in 95 games.

“These past few years he’s struggled a bit with injuries and that must have been tough for him. But this season, he was really fun to watch,” Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani said in the MLBPA video.

In 2022, Bellinger struggled to rediscover that form and the environment in Los Angeles added onto that pressure. That led to his non-tender and an opportunity for the Cubs to pounce in the offseason.

“Cody was our top target going into the offseason,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference. “We said we needed a center fielder [and] we thought he was going to get non-tendered by the Dodgers. That was one where all that planning this time of year really paid off.

“We watched a ton of video on him, we focused on him and sometimes those plans go exactly as you hope.”

Bellinger showed what he is at his best in 2023. His .356 on-base percentage, .525 slugging percentage and .881 OPS are all the highest since his MVP year. He led the team in slugging percentage, OPS and home runs. The Cubs were at their best offensively when Bellinger was healthy.

“What he’s done this year and since he started his career has been incredible,” Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. said in the MLBPA video. “He’s had his ups and downs, but he was able to come back and that is the Cody Bellinger we all wanted to see.”

Bellinger now hits free agency, with the Cubs expected to be one of the top contenders for him.

“There’s nothing better than having a guy experience for a year and openly say he loves it and I think that’s something that gives us a shot,” Hoyer said. “We don’t have to recruit him very hard. I think he knows what this place is all about. And I know he loved it.”

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