Awards season kicked off Thursday, as the Major League Baseball Players Association announced the winners of the Players Choice Awards, naming Cody Bellinger the National League Comeback Player of the Year.
Bellinger signed a pillow contract with the Cubs for the 2023 season, and during the past year he built such a strong jumping-off point that he’s poised for a big pay day in free agency this offseason. Though the Cubs have shown interest in bringing him back next year, whether the organization will make the most appealing bid for him, or lose him to another team, has yet to be seen.
“Playing for the Cubs organization at Wrigley Field was really special,” Bellinger said after the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention. “And these last few weeks, I really just tried to embrace it, have fun with this group of guys and obviously try to help his team win.”
The Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger a year ago, after the two worst seasons of the former MVP’s career. A couple serious injuries, and mechanical issues he developed compensating for the loss in strength, seemed to contribute to Bellinger’s prolonged slump.
A full-strength Bellinger with a change of scenery hit a career-best .307 this season. He was not only the Cubs’ best hitter but one of the best offensive center fielders in MLB. Later in the year, he also helped solve the Cubs’ first base problem by taking over the position part time.
“He had an incredible season,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “And 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. And that’s certainly not lost on us.”
Back with a vengeance. Cody Bellinger took the @Cubs lineup by storm, jumping to a .307 batting average, .525 slugging and .881 OPS – all his highest marks since his 2019 NL MVP season. Congrats, Cody, on being voted 2023 #PlayersChoiceAwards NL Comeback Player! pic.twitter.com/vgsXU0EbyW
— MLBPA (@MLBPA) November 2, 2023
Bellinger beat out Bryce Harper and Michael Conforto for the NL award. The White Sox’ Liam Hendriks won the AL Comeback Player of the Year award after his fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Cubs had two other finalists for Players choice awards, left fielder Ian Happ for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award for leadership, and left-hander Justin Steele for Outstanding Pitcher of the Year. Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award for the third consecutive year. And Padres right-hander Blake Snell took home the NL Outstanding Pitcher of the Year award.
The Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award goes to the player who “whose leadership most inspires others to higher levels of achievement.” Happ, who had been involved with the MLBPA as a team representative for years prior, was elected to the MLBPA executive subcommittee before last season.
Steele, in his second season in the Cubs rotation, earned the first All-Star nod of his career and put himself squarely in the Cy Young conversation. He finished the year with the third-best ERA (3.06) and strikeout to walk ratio (4.89) among qualified NL pitchers. For the first time in his career, Steele hit the 30-start threshold, serving as a stabilizing force for the Cubs.