Ranking the best landing spots for Bellinger

December 13th, 2023

Now that Shohei Ohtani is off the board -- though Ohtani really felt like his own board all together -- the best free-agent hitter left is almost certainly .

The Cubs center fielder and first baseman hit a career-best .307 in 2023, and he smashed 27 homers en route to a 10th-place finish in the National League MVP Award voting. Considering he has already won one of those in his career, and that he’s only 28 years old, you’d think teams would be lining up to pay top dollar for Bellinger.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. That NL MVP Award, won with the Dodgers in 2019, feels like the product of a different Cody Bellinger entirely. After miserable years in 2021 and '22 led the Dodgers to non-tender Bellinger, he rebounded in '23 in Chicago -- but still didn’t much resemble that previous version of himself.

Bellinger didn’t hit the ball nearly as hard or far and he had a much lower walk rate, albeit while making much more contact.

So which Bellinger will his new team be getting? Will bidders think they can coax the 2019 version back out of him? Can he sustain the '23 version? Or could we even see the 2021-22 version again?

Bellinger is an absolutely fascinating case, and a lot of teams could certainly use him. Here’s one guess at the teams most likely to get him, focusing on the top eight potential suitors to find the best possible landing spot. (One suitor appeared to come off the board on Tuesday, when the Giants agreed to a six-year, $113 million deal with Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee.)

Here are your Cody Bellinger suitor power rankings.

1. Blue Jays
What better way to ease that lingering disappointment over Ohtani than by bringing in the next-best free-agent hitter? Bellinger certainly won’t cost the Jays $700 million, and he is the left-handed bat this lineup needs to go with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and George Springer.

Bellinger could play left field, or he could play center and move Daulton Varsho to left -- either way, those are big upgrades both defensively and offensively. (With Kevin Kiermaier a free agent, Toronto’s third outfield spot is currently up in the air.) The same justifications for bringing in Ohtani hold for bringing in Bellinger, and it would be the jolt this franchise seems to need right now.

2. Yankees
There wouldn’t seem to be space for Bellinger right now, not with the acquisitions of Soto and Alex Verdugo, but there remains skepticism that the Yanks will really go into 2024, an enormous year for the franchise, with Verdugo as their everyday left fielder. Signing Bellinger would allow Aaron Judge to move out of center field and give the Yankees the sort of thunderous, All-Star outfield we’re used to seeing in The Bronx.

They’d have to do something with Verdugo, sure. But the Yankees’ plans for 2024 are much bigger than Verdugo. Plus, Bellinger’s dad, Clay, wore the pinstripes, earning World Series rings with the 1999-2000 Bombers.

3. Cubs
Could a reunion be in the works? The Cubs brought in manager Craig Counsell with the understanding that they would continue bolstering the roster. But right now, the North Siders are still down three key players from last season -- Bellinger, Marcus Stroman and Jeimer Candelario, who already signed with Cincinnati -- while not adding any significant pieces to a club that went 83-79.

Bellinger was one of the main reasons the Cubs had a winning record last year. He rebuilt his value at Wrigley Field, so it’s clearly a place where he’s comfortable, with a fanbase that loves him. A return does make a lot of sense.

4. Astros
This is a sneakily solid fit. Houston's core is getting older, and the Astros have an opening in the outfield, especially with Michael Brantley a free agent. Bellinger would maybe make their lineup a little too left-handed, but when those lefties are Bellinger, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, they’ll figure it out.

Bringing in Bellinger might make it harder to sign some of their pending free agents, such as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, but that’s a problem for 2025.

5. Angels
No one’s quite sure what the Angels are going to do in the wake of Ohtani’s departure -- other than “not trade Mike Trout.” But if they’re looking to use some of that money they presumably had earmarked for Ohtani, Bellinger would be a target. He might not displace Trout in center field right away -- though he probably should -- but he’d be a terrific running mate for him in the lineup, either in a corner or at first base.

One can question the wisdom of the Angels trying to once again solve their problems by spending big, but if they’re not looking to rebuild, adding Bellinger could at least help keep them afloat.

6. Red Sox
The Red Sox have long been considered a potential player here, though their trade for the Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill added to an already crowded outfield picture. They now have O’Neill, Rob Refsnyder, Jarren Duran, Wilyer Abreu, Cedanne Rafaela and, when he’s not DHing, Masataka Yoshida. Boston needs to add talent, but is Bellinger the right target?

7. Phillies
Now that Bryce Harper is a first baseman, there’s more room in the outfield, although Philly might not want to displace young Johan Rojas and his elite range from center. Bellinger would seem to fit in with this entertaining group, and the Phils do love signing free agents, but this just wouldn’t be addressing a major area of need at this point.

8. Mets
You always have to include them on any list like this, given their financial resources and recent history of big moves. New York already has a highly-paid center fielder in Brandon Nimmo, but Bellinger would bolster the Mets in a corner, where DJ Stewart remains largely unproven, and 35-year-old Starling Marte is coming off a subpar, injury-marred season.

Still, the fit doesn’t really seem to be here (which might not necessarily stop them).

Honorable mentions

Mariners: They sure don’t seem to be going in this direction, despite the fit.

Rangers: This would be fun, but they’re probably set in the outfield.

Orioles: If they make a big move, it seems more likely to be for pitching.