Report: 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Cubs Agree to 1-Year, $17.5M Contract

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 6, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 07: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs in from third after his solo homerun, to take a 1-0 lead over the San Diego Padres, during the third inning at Dodger Stadium on August 07, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Free-agent outfielder Cody Bellinger is reportedly signing with the Chicago Cubs.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported that Bellinger will join the Cubs, and ESPN's Jeff Passan noted it will be on a one-year, $17.5 million contract.

The Los Angeles Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger following the end of the 2022 MLB season, a decision that symbolized how precipitously his stock has fallen since he was named the National League Most Valuable Player in 2019.

In 504 plate appearances in 2022, Bellinger struck out 150 times while batting .210 and slugging .389. He had 19 home runs and 68 RBI as well.

"Obviously, it's been a unique path for Cody as he's battled through injuries and worked diligently over the past few years to return to his All-Star-caliber performance," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "However, it hasn't played out as well as we would've hoped or expected, and therefore we had to make a difficult decision of non-tendering."

Bellinger could've opted to return to Los Angeles for less than the $18-20 million he could have earned for 2023, but a fresh start should benefit him more.

When the 27-year-old's performance noticeably declined in 2020, it was easy to chalk it up to the challenges presented by the COVID-19-pandemic-shortened season. After he played even worse in 2021, it was grounds for concern.

A third straight poor season offensively for Bellinger raises serious questions over whether there's any coming back from here.

Among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2020, the two-time All-Star owns the fifth-lowest wOBA (.281) and is tied with Myles Straw for the fourth-worst wRC+ (78), per FanGraphs.

Nothing symbolizes Bellinger's downturn more than his swing.

Watching the 6'4" slugger connect was a thing of beauty when he first entered MLB in 2017 and went on to win MVP.

Los Angeles Dodgers @Dodgers

That <a href="https://twitter.com/Cody_Bellinger?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Cody_Bellinger</a> swing. <a href="https://t.co/OP6i2Pw49F">pic.twitter.com/OP6i2Pw49F</a>

Bellinger decided to tweak his swing in 2020, though. Then he suffered a shoulder injury that required further adjustments. His continued changes since then point to a hitter who has simply lost confidence.

Bill Plunkett @billplunkettocr

Said he went back to the more familiar hand position because he is feeling strong again (after shoulder surgery) and "group effort" with hitting coaches, looking at video feedback on his barrel angle before contact

If Bellinger's problems boil down to a mechanical flaw, then it might at least be something solvable. But more changes could exacerbate the situation, especially if they reflect a deeper psychological dynamic at play. Think of a defender getting the "yips."

Because of how good he was to begin his MLB career, Bellinger is a tantalizing reclamation project. And amid the cratering of his offense, he remains a plus defender and an effective baserunner.

The risk behind this move is obvious, but the upside makes the gambit easily justifiable for Chicago.

The Cubs went 74-88 in 2022, the first full season after they removed nearly all of the remaining vestiges from their 2016 World Series title. Barring massive investment from ownership, it could be another year of middling on-field returns in the Windy City.

If that is indeed the plan, Bellinger could thrive without the daily scrutiny that comes when you're suiting up for a franchise that's aiming to win a title.