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The biggest question Cubs will have to answer this offseason

10 months agoTony Andracki

Like any MLB team that doesn’t make the playoffs, the Cubs will have plenty of items to cross off their checklist this winter.

But there is also one clear question that stands above the rest: Will Cody Bellinger be back on the Cubs in 2024?

It’s the topic that will dominate the offseason as he is set to become a free agent.

He doesn’t know what his future holds, but he made sure to soak it all in — in case this is the end.

“I really tried to enjoy these last few weeks,” Bellinger said. “Obviously there’s no prediction of the future or anything. I really just enjoyed my time with this group of guys, with this coaching staff.

“Playing for the Cubs organization and at Wrigley Field was really special. These last few weeks, I really just tried to embrace it, have fun with this group of guys and obviously try and help this team win.”

[MORE: ‘It’s rare to have such a presence’: Cubs explain why Cody Bellinger is so darn popular inside the clubhouse]

Bellinger was non-tendered by the Dodgers after the 2022 season and the Cubs pounced, inking the center fielder/first baseman to a 1-year, $17.5 million deal.

It was a smart move on both sides — Bellinger got a chance to recoup his value and the Cubs notched a former MVP on a very low-risk contract.

And it turned out to be a perfect match as the 28-year-old had his best season since his MVP year in 2019. Bellinger finished the year with a .307/.356/.525 slash line (.885 OPS), slugging 26 homers, stealing 20 bases, driving in 97 runs and scoring 95.

And that was all with a missed month of action in May and June due to a knee injury.

He will assuredly get some down-ballot NL MVP votes this season and was absolutely the Cubs’ MVP.

As the Cubs were making their run back into playoff contention, it was Bellinger that carried them. And not just for a couple weeks. For more than 2 months, Bellinger was arguably the best hitter in baseball.

From July 1 through Sept. 6, Bellinger hit .363 with a 1.031 OPS and drove in 64 runs in 60 games.

Over that same span, the only player in baseball with a higher batting average than Bellinger was his former teammate, Mookie Betts (.376). Only Betts and another former teammate, Corey Seager, had higher slugging percentages than Bellinger.

And no player drove in more runs, as Bellinger paced the league, tallying 13 more RBI than the next closest player (Julio Rodríguez — 51).

In those 60 games, the Cubs went 38-22 as they soared to a season-high 12 games over .500.

“Cody’s been extremely important for our success this year for sure,” David Ross said. “He carried us, especially there in the middle of the summer. He put us on his back.”

After that MVP season, Bellinger fell on tough times in Los Angeles. He injured his right shoulder during the 2020 playoffs and ultimately had to have surgery to address the lingering issues.

That impacted his play throughout 2021-22 and he hit just .193 with a .611 OPS, 29 homers and 104 RBI in 239 games across those 2 seasons.

This past offseason, he set about strengthening that shoulder and making some adjustments to his offensive game. In 2023, he turned in the lowest strikeout rate of his career (15.7%) and actually performed better against lefties than righties (.984 OPS vs. LHP, .830 OPS vs. RHP).

“I don’t know the rest of the league but hands down, gotta be Comeback Player of the Year,” Ross said. “Had some adversity the last couple years. That season he had for us this year was really important for our success. He went out and identified some areas he wanted to get better and did a really nice job of identifying those and coming out and proving what he’s worth.

“Happy for him, happy for us. I think he likes it here. We liked having him here and he was really important to our year, for sure.”

Bellinger is set to become a free agent for the second straight offseason, but things will be completely different for him this time around. His left-handed offensive production, elite defense at two positions, clubhouse impact and the fact that he is still in his prime means he should have plenty of suitors and a big contract is headed his way.

“Cody had a great summer,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said. “He’s a great teammate. Any team would love to have him, including us. But the free agent market — we’ll see where that goes. That’ll be up to Jed [Hoyer] on how he puts those resources to work.”

It didn’t take long for Bellinger to endear himself to his new team and the fanbase. He was probably the most popular person inside the Cubs clubhouse and one of the most beloved players on the team with the fans.

“We’d love to have him back,” Ricketts said. “It’ll be up to the baseball guys and the free agent markets.”

Bellinger had nothing but positive things to say about his time as a Cub.

“I had a great experience,” he said. “Love Wrigley Field. It’s a beautiful place. They’re great fans, very passionate, very loyal. I really had a great time playing for the Cubs organization in Wrigley Field.”

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