Former MVP Bellinger agrees to deal with Cubs

December 14th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager David Ross was doing a segment on MLB Network one week ago, when news broke that free-agent center fielder Cody Bellinger had agreed to a deal with Chicago. Host Kevin Millar broke the news to Ross on air.

"Really?" Ross said with a smile. "Nice. All right."

Officially announced on Wednesday, Bellinger's one-year deal includes a mutual option for 2024 and is worth $17.5 million guaranteed, sources told That gives the Cubs a low-risk addition with potential for a strong bounce-back campaign, which would in turn help Bellinger restore his value on a Chicago club aiming to compete for a playoff spot as soon as this season.

A couple hours before word spread on Dec. 6 that Bellinger accepted that deal, his agent, Scott Boras, held court with reporters in the Manchester Grand Hyatt at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Boras noted that the outfielder had multi-year offers on the table, too, adding that teams saw "very serious upside" in the National League's MVP winner in 2019.

Ross echoed that when he sat down with reporters on Dec. 6 and spoke about Bellinger, who was non-tendered by the Dodgers last month.

"He's got a track record of a lot of success and dynamic defense," Ross said. "I remember when he first got in the league. First base, smooth hands, dynamic center fielder, great outfielder. You know, he hasn't had the success he had early on, but definitely a lot of potential for a great player."

Bellinger put together a remarkable 2019 season for the Dodgers en route to being named the MVP, but he's struggled in the three seasons since. After hitting .305 with a 1.035 OPS and 47 home runs in his MVP-winning campaign, Bellinger has hit just .203 with a .648 OPS and 41 homers in the past three years combined.

His struggles began in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then injuries began to mount, too.

Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder while celebrating a homer in Game 7 of the 2020 NL Championship Series, undergoing surgery the following offseason. He then had three stints on the injured list in '21, missing nearly two months with a left shin fracture, another two weeks due to left hamstring tightness and 10 more days with a left rib fracture.

"That's got to play a part in it," Ross said of the injury woes impacting Bellinger's offense. "Playing through an injury, trying to come back and learning how to balance wanting to be out on the field and actually getting fully healthy, I think is what a lot of players -- in my experience -- deal with.

"And trying to rush back and maybe not getting all the way there. And then getting into a space where, you know, you've got a leg issue, you've got a shoulder issue, and you get into some bad habits, or bad habits create mistakes or make it tougher to hit. And then you get into this rabbit hole of chasing the feeling that you used to have and where you're at mechanically.

"So there's a lot of freedom in getting a full offseason to get healthy, to recognize that, and change [of] scenery sometimes is a benefit for a lot of guys."

Defensively, the 27-year-old Bellinger has a Gold Glove Award on his résumé (2019), and he racked up seven outs above average as the everyday center fielder for the 111-win Dodgers in ‘22. The players cycled through center for the Cubs in '22 combined for minus-seven OAA and an MLB-worst minus-18 defensive runs saved.

"Obviously, as you look at our lineup next year and where some of the opportunities are to add a bat or to add a defender, center fielder is certainly one of those spots," Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. "And we're certainly always looking for left-handed hitting. So I think with Cody, his defense, the talent that he has, he's the type of guy that potentially could be a good fit for us, along with some others."

Filling the hole in center was a priority this winter for the Cubs, who were still in the market for catching help and pitching depth. Addressing that last need, Chicago and veteran starter Jameson Taillon reached a four-year, $68 million agreement last week.

Since the Winter Meetings ended, potential free-agent targets such as shortstops Carlos Correa (Giants) and Xander Bogaerts (Padres), starter Kodai Senga (Mets) and catcher Christian Vázquez (Twins) have found new homes. The A's traded catcher Sean Murphy (another possible fit for the North Siders) to the Braves in a three-team deal also involving the Brewers.

"We're in play on a lot of players," Ross said at the Winter Meetings. "I know that our front office is working their tail off daily and just trying to form the best roster and team that we can possibly have. And so, I have a lot of confidence in their ability to continue to add dynamic players."