Last offseason, Cody Bellinger was looking for a one-year "prove it deal" to be able to recoup his value and hit the open market this offseason to cash in.
Well, he did all of that and then some.
After winning the MVP in 2019, Bellinger had a rough go of things from 2020-2022, ultimately being non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers which allowed him to hit free agency. He hit .307/.356/.525 with 26 HR and 97 RBI for the Cubs in 2023 while playing elite defense in center field as well.
There was talk that the Cardinals were considering signing Bellinger if they had traded for Sean Murphy instead of signing Willson Contreras, but even with the Contreras signing, the Cardinals should have strongly considered bringing in Bellinger.
Center field was a mess for the Cardinals for most of 2023, and if they had Bellinger in the fold, they could have more easily dealt Tyler O'Neill or Dylan Carlson to grab pitching help, or even parted with other pieces to make it happen. His bat and defense would have elevated the team, and I'd imagine they would have been better suited to buy at the deadline as well if that had happened.
Even if things would have still fallen off the rails, the Cardinals could have traded Bellinger at the deadline for prospects, helping strengthen their position going in 2023 even further like their other deadline deals were able to.
Plus, the Cubs would not have had the resurgence happen on their own roster, which come on, that should have been even more reason to bring Bellinger to St. Louis instead.