Cody Bellinger's absence felt in Arizona as Cubs prepare for spring training

Cody Bellinger's absence felt in Arizona as Cubs prepare for spring training originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Despite MLB teams being just days away from taking the field in their first spring training games in Arizona and Florida, 12 of MLB Trade Rumors' top 50 free agents remain unsigned.

Perhaps nowhere is a free agent's absence more conspicuous than the Chicago Cubs' camp, where the North Siders get to work hoping to improve on an 83-win campaign that left them one win short of the postseason without their top bat from 2023.

Finishing 10th in NL MVP voting and winning a Silver Slugger award as a utilityman, Bellinger racked up 26 home runs and 97 RBI while posting a stellar 133 OPS+ and playing an integral role in a midseason hot stretch that put the team in playoff contention.

Widely regarded as the top free agent still available, Bellinger's market has been defined by a stalemate between Scott Boras, the star's high-profile agent, and teams across the league, many of whom have encountered financial difficulties due to uncertainty regarding TV deals, leading teams to trend more conservative this offseason.

While the aforementioned stalemate has certainly affected Boras' other high-profile clients as well (Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell and Matt Chapman), Bellinger's positional fit with the Cubs and the North Siders' uniquely secure TV deal make a reunion seem almost inevitable.

Combining that with a famous moment in Cubs lore when Dexter Fowler showed up unannounced to spring training in 2016, NBC Chicago's Mike Berman said an untimely appearance of Cody Bellinger has been on the mind of Cubs' players in Arizona on the latest episode of Cubs Talk.

While Dansby Swanson and other Cubs may be both hoping and expecting an eventual appearance this spring from Bellinger, it's clear that the North Siders are a different team without him on the roster.

With teams having reported to camp and games beginning next week, it's fair to believe that players signing as free agents from here on out will have to adjust to a new team and new environment, shedding light on why most high-end free agency signings occur in December in typical offseasons.

Luckily for the Cubs, Bellinger would not need this adjustment if he ends up returning to the North Side, as the Arizona native is already acquainted with both the team and the spring training facilities.

Though the Cubs appear uniquely positioned to sign Bellinger, there's no certainty the team's most valuable hitter from a year ago will return in Cubbie blue for 2024 and beyond. Without his presence, the Cubs are left with a notably less imposing offense than they did in 2023.

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