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Cody Bellinger named NL Comeback Player of the Year

Ryan Herrera Avatar
November 28, 2023
Chicago Cubs first baseman Cody Bellinger (24) high fives teammates after hitting a solo home run in the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

When the Cubs signed Cody Bellinger to a one-year “pillow contract” last offseason, they were betting on a return to form for a player once considered among the elite in Major League Baseball.

Through his first four seasons with the Dodgers to start his career, he earned accolade after accolade: two-time All-Star; one-time Silver Slugger; one-time Gold Glover; 2017 NL Rookie of the Year; 2018 NLCS MVP; 2019 NL MVP. More were expected to come.

But across the 2021-22 seasons, his production sunk. He hit just .193 with a .611 OPS and 69 wRC+. Injuries certainly played a big role in his downturn, and with a decision to make on whether or not to tender him a contract a year ago, Los Angeles ultimately let him walk.

Bellinger joined the Cubs on a one-year deal worth $17.5 million guaranteed, hoping to put together a bounce back campaign — and did he ever. Bellinger was named the NL Comeback Player of the Year on Tuesday, as voted on by 30 MLB.com writers, capping off a resurgent season that will earn him a lucrative contract this winter.

“Just spent all offseason getting myself in the best position to succeed,” Bellinger told MLB Network after the announcement Tuesday night. “Really, the consistent aspect of my game this year was something I kind of strive for, something I always felt like I needed, and I had it this year. Just the way my body was feeling, the work, and obviously just going out and being able to play the game that I know I could play. It was a fun year.”

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

The award caps off a strong month of recognition for Bellinger.

He was previously named the NL Comeback Player of the Year by his peers in the 2023 Players Choice Awards at the beginning of the month. Bellinger also finished 10th in NL MVP voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and he earned his second-career Silver Slugger Award in the “utility” category after strong performances both in center field and at first base.

Those awards were well-deserved after the 2023 Bellinger put together.

He quickly became a fan-favorite with his scorching hot April that ended up being one of the best offensive months of his career. And outside of a knee injury that put him on the shelf from mid-May to mid-June, Bellinger proved throughout the season how dangerous of a hitter he is at his best, finishing the year with a career-high .307 average, an .881 OPS and a 134 wRC+.

“He had an incredible season,” Hoyer said. “During that run that we had, it felt like it was just one two-out single after another. Whenever we needed him, he sort of bailed us out. That’s certainly not lost on us.”

Chicago Cubs first baseman Cody Bellinger (24) reacts after a single against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Truist Park.
Sep 28, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Cody Bellinger (24) reacts after a single against the Atlanta Braves in the eighth inning at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the 28-year-old Bellinger is now one of the top bats on the market. The question has now become if a reunion between the two sides is in the cards.

His agent, Scott Boras, seemed to hint at the GM Meetings earlier this month that the Cubs won’t be getting a discount if they want to bring him back.

“When we came to Chicago, he just feasted on major league pitching,” Boras said. “Chicago got the comforts of a full Belli, so they’re going to have to loosen their belts to keep Bellinger.”

While rumors about the Cubs’ various targets — both on the trade market or in free agency — seem to swirl daily, any news of talks with Bellinger’s camp has been much more quiet. If he does come back, he’d be able to fill the Cubs’ holes either at first base or in center field.

They’ll likely have to pony up to bring him back in the fold, but if they have any advantage, it’s that they don’t have to sell Bellinger on the organization. They already know how much he appreciated his year on the North Side of Chicago.

“Obviously, there’s no prediction of the future in anything,” Bellinger said at the end of the season. “I really just enjoyed my time with this group of guys, with this coaching staff. Playing for the Cubs organization and Wrigley Field was really special.”

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