MLB Hot Stove Lowdown: Cody Bellinger re-signs with Cubs

We finally have baseball games to watch as spring training is officially underway. One player returning to action soon will be Cody Bellinger, who finally ends his lengthy free agency with a return to the Cubs. There was a flurry of moves on Monday, including the Dodgers moving Manuel Margot to Minnesota and reuniting with Enrique Hernández. And the Cardinals added a veteran shortstop to their infield mix.

Cubs bring back Cody Bellinger

One of the "Boras Four" ended their stalemate over the weekend. News broke on Sunday that the Cubs agreed to a three-year, $80 million contract with Cody Bellinger. The deal includes opt-outs after each of the first two seasons. The 28-year-old returns to Chicago, where he hit .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers, 95 runs scored, 97 RBI, and 20 steals across 556 plate appearances. It was a tremendous comeback season for Bellinger, who hadn't been the same since winning the 2019 NL MVP award. He struggled at the plate over the previous two seasons with the Dodgers, posting a .654 OPS in 2022 and a .542 OPS in 2021. A significant cut in strikeouts aided Bellinger's resurgence. He posted a career-high 87.4 percent zone-contact rate. However, it might have come at the expense of the raw power we saw early in his career. A 6.1 percent barrel rate and 31.4 percent hard-hit rate yielded 26 home runs on 26 total barreled balls, making his home run output challenging to project this season. And there's a chance we see some regression in his batting average, given the sharp dip in his hard-hit rate. Still, he did go 26/20 in 130 games, making him a relatively safe bet to be a multi-category, 20/20 bat with first base and outfield eligibility going in the fifth round in most fantasy leagues.

Bellinger started 81 games in center field and 44 games at first base for the Cubs last year. Where he fits with the club this season likely depends on how the other options at each position perform in spring training. Outfielder prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong is likely the best defensive option to patrol center field. The 21-year-old slugged 20 homers with 37 steals across Double-A and Triple-A before getting 19 plate appearances in the majors to end the season. While he's flashed an intriguing blend of skills in the minors, he also displayed lots of swing-and-miss, striking out at a 29.7 percent rate in Triple-A. Crow-Armstrong could be the player most at risk of getting squeezed out of playing time with Bellinger's return if the team determines he needs more seasoning in the minors. Bellinger was better defensively at first base. But the team has a log jam at the position with Michael Busch, Matt Mervis, and new addition Garrett Cooper vying for playing time this spring. Busch, acquired from the Dodgers last month, is currently penciled in for at least a strong-side platoon. The 26-year-old hit 27 homers with a 1.049 OPS in Triple-A last season, leaving little left to prove in the upper minors. How the playing time will shake out will be something to watch over the spring. Bellinger's return is certainly a positive thing for a Cubs team that could have one of the better lineups in the National League.

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Twins trade for Manuel Margot

The Twins completed a trade with the Dodgers on Monday, acquiring outfielder Manuel Margot in exchange for shortstop prospect Noah Miller. Margot had landed with the Dodgers earlier this offseason in the Tyler Glasnow trade with the Rays. He now finds himself back in the American League. The 29-year-old has spent the last several seasons with the Rays, mostly as a part-time player with good outfield defense and better numbers against left-handed pitching. He slashed .264/.310/.376 with four homers and nine steals across 336 plate appearances last season. Margot will likely reprise a similar role with the Twins. His right-handed bat complements the slew of left-handed hitters that includes Matt Wallner, Max Kepler, and Alex Kirilloff, all of whom can find themselves sitting in favor of Margot against some left-handed starters. In Miller, the Dodgers get a 21-year-old shortstop prospect with a better glove than bat who slashed .223/.309/.340 with eight homers and 12 steals across 526 plate appearances in High-A last season. He gives the team some organizational depth up the middle.

Dodgers sign Enrique Hernández

In a move that followed up the trade of Margot, the Dodgers replaced one right-handed hitter with another, bringing back Enrique Hernández. Hernandez hit .237/.289/.357 with 11 homers and four steals across 508 plate appearances last season. He spent the last few years with the Red Sox before reuniting with the Dodgers at last season's trade deadline. The 32-year-old veteran had his best season in 2021, hitting 20 homers with a .786 OPS. Hernández should fill a utility role with Los Angeles, occasionally spelling Gavin Lux or Jason Heyward at shortstop and outfield against left-handed pitching. Unless he gets full-time at-bats via injury, he has very little fantasy utility in most mixed leagues.

Cardinals add shortstop Brandon Crawford

St. Louis added some veteran depth to the infield, signing shortstop Brandon Crawford. The 37-year-old three-time All-Star had spent his entire 13-year career with the Giants. After a career year in 2021 in which is posted a .895 OPS with 24 homers, he's struggled to stay on the field over the last two seasons. He slashed .194/.273/.314 with seven homers and three steals across 320 plate appearances in 2023. Crawford gives the Cardinals a capable defender at shortstop to back up Masyn Winn and a left-handed bat off the bench.