What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Cody Bellinger was at best a reclamation project — a former MVP, yes, but one who had fallen so far that the Los Angeles Dodgers non-tendered him rather than spending any more time trying to fix him. Now, though, the 28-year-old is arguably the most coveted bat in an otherwise-thin free-agent market, coming off a year in which he hit .307/.356/.525 line with 26 home runs in 130 games with the Chicago Cubs.
There are some concerns around Bellinger — it’s just one year of success after several years in the wilderness, and his batted-ball data hints at some regression — but a player with his track record and Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field is going to justifiably warrant some big bucks. Which team is best positioned to win that particular sweepstakes? Pretty much any team with eyes on contending in the next few years should be in, but we break down the five best fits below.
Cody Bellinger free agent landing spots
5. Seattle Mariners
Yes, Seattle already has Julio Rodriguez creating a no-fly zone in center field, but T-Mobile Park has among the more spacious outfields in the game, and two plus defenders out there certainly wouldn’t hurt. Plus, letting Bellinger moonlight at first base and DH — two other areas of weakness for the Mariners right now — would hopefully let him stay healthy over the long haul. The real reason this is a fit, though, is on offense, where Seattle is desperately in need of a lefty power bat in the middle of a lineup that was lacking in both areas in 2023. (With all due respect, you can only go so far when J.P. Crawford is your most dangerous left-handed hitter.) Jerry Dipoto hasn’t been too eager to spend big money recently, but the fit here is too good to pass up.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Gone is Kevin Kiermaier, creating a hole in center field as the aging George Springer shifts over to right. Why not fill that hole with Bellinger, who also comes with the added benefit of adding a left-handed bat to an extremely right-handed lineup? The Jays are built to win right now, but they clearly need some help getting over the hump; Bellinger would bolster what’s been a frustratingly inconsistent offense over the past couple of seasons while helping avoid a defensive regression with the loss of Kiermaier.
3. Chicago Cubs
On paper, this makes tons of sense: The Cubs are ready to get aggressive, with a new manager in Craig Counsell and tons of young talent in the pipeline; they have a talented center fielder in Pete Crow-Armstrong, but they could use Bellinger in a corner or at first base and DH, two positions in which Chicago simply wasn’t good enough in 2023; Bellinger figures to be comfortable on the North Side, and maybe he’ll reward the team that took a chance on him when his stock was at its lowest last winter. Now is the time for Jed Hoyer to start spending again, and while there are also rotation holes to fill, Bellinger makes more sense than just about any other bat on the market.
2. San Francisco Giants
Okay, so this wouldn’t quite make up for missing out on Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa and all of the other superstars who have spurned San Francisco in recent years, but it’d be something for a team and a front office that are desperately seeking an identity to build around. Bellinger is well-suited to go and get it in the spacious confines of Oracle Park, and the Giants are in need of both a true center fielder and an impact bat. Plus, he has a history with president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi dating back to their time with the Dodgers.
1. New York Yankees
There are the narrative reasons, like Bellinger’s father, Clay, playing three of his four MLB seasons with the Yankees and Cody calling it a “really special place to play” when the Cubs visited the Bronx this past July. But even without all of that, this just makes too much sense: New York is looking for both a big splash to change the vibes around the franchise and a left-handed outfield bat to plug into the middle of the order, and Bellinger checks both of those boxes with ease. Plus, is there a swing more perfectly tailored to take aim at the short porch? Brian Cashman has already more or less admitted his desire to add multiple outfielders this winter, and Bellinger is the cream of the crop.