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Chicago Cubs and Cody Bellinger remain an ideal pairing — but can the two sides find common ground?

The best fit for the Chicago Cubs remains available in free agency.

And yet the waiting game continues for outfielder Cody Bellinger and the Cubs. A reunion after a stellar one-year partnership in 2023 makes a lot of sense between the two sides.

Bellinger, 28, was a dynamic force in the middle of the Cubs lineup, giving them much-needed power from the left side they still haven’t adequately addressed even with the trade acquisition of top-50 prospect Michael Busch. For Bellinger, it would be a return to an environment and hitting infrastructure where he thrived in a bounce-back season that showed what he is still capable of when fully healthy.

President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, though, has demonstrated over his three-plus years in this position that the Cubs will be principled in how they operate in free agency. Bellinger’s agent Scott Boras has also not been afraid to wait things out, even if it means his top players do not sign until spring training is underway. The Cubs ideally would like to have their roster in place by the time pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 14. Given how much work still needs to be done with three weeks to go, that might not happen, especially if the Cubs are willing to wait and see how Bellinger’s free-agency courtship plays out.

“We don’t have any fixed deadline,” general manager Carter Hawkins said earlier this month. “I think in a perfect world you have your team going into spring training. I think a lot of these players that sign in March and into the season, there’s just a tough transition phase to get back up to speed when you’re behind the eight ball that way. It doesn’t mean that it can’t work, but just seems like it’s harder to work. That’s anecdotal of course.

“We wouldn’t rule it out. That’d be foolish for us to rule anything out. But, yeah, we’d much prefer to get our team sooner than later.”

If Bellinger’s Cubs teammates had any influence on whether the slugger returns, he garnered unanimous support for a reunion recently during the Cubs Convention.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks credited Bellinger’s role in a collectively strong defense that took pressure off the pitching staff and what it would mean to have that type of dynamic player come back to Chicago, though the veteran also understands this is a business. Center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong hopes Bellinger re-signs, regardless of the impact it would have on his playing time.

Left fielder Ian Happ applauded Bellinger for going through what has become a prolonged free-agent process and being in the tough part of negotiations at this point of the offseason, still not knowing where he will play in 2024 and beyond. Happ said part of why he agreed to a shorter three-year extension was so the front office could pursue bigger, longer-term free-agent deals in a win-now environment. Bellinger would certainly fit those parameters.

“If they want to move on from me in three years, that’s their prerogative and they can do it so I think they’re going to build the team in the best way that they see fit and as players, we trust Jed and Carter to do that and give us a chance to compete at the top of the division and into the playoffs,” Happ said.

Left-hander Justin Steele said it was hard to describe the impact Bellinger had last year but that the Cubs would have a sizable hole to replace if he doesn’t return.

“Everybody saw what he did on the field and it was obviously magnificent what he was able to do, but the teammate and the person behind the player is by far the best attribute he has,” Steele said. “The guy showed up in the locker room every day with a smile on his face, good vibes, everybody wants to show up and talk to him that day. So that for me, that’s something that goes such a long way, especially with young guys coming up.”

Bellinger’s defensive flexibility would be a coveted asset for manager Craig Counsell and the Cubs’ roster construction. Playing at an elite level in center field and first base did not go unappreciated by Dansby Swanson, particularly with how it can help with mixing and matching with the lineup, allowing a manager to “press a few different buttons that not maybe any other team could.”

Since signing with the Cubs last offseason, Swanson has been in regular communication with Hoyer and Hawkins, bouncing ideas off each other, communicating openly and being honest with the shortstop when moves might be happening. Swanson is confident that, Bellinger or no Bellinger, the front office isn’t done improving a roster that fell one game short of the postseason.

“At the end of the day, they have a plan, they know what they want,” Swanson said. “They know what they’re looking for. The market overall has been slow. I mean, other than, the billion dollars out west, there really hasn’t been a ton. ... They know that we need to get better and we will get better and I think you’ve started to see that recently with some things starting to fall in place and I think that’s only going to continue to grow from there.”