The Chicago Cubs have made their first splash of the offseason. The Cubs have agreed to a one-year contract worth $17.5 million with former NL MVP Cody Bellinger, our Jim Bowden confirms. The team has not yet announced the news. The Los Angeles Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger last month rather than pay him $18 million or so through arbitration.
Bellinger, who is still only 27, has crashed hard since being named MVP in 2019 and winning the World Series in 2020. He's slashed .193/.256/.355 the last two seasons, including .201/.265/.389 in 550 plate appearances in 2022. Bellinger remains an elite defensive center fielder, but he's simply stopped hitting. Chicago will try to get his bat back on track in 2023.
The Cubs started seven different players in center field this past season and none stayed there for more than 50 games. The position was a revolving door all summer. Bellinger's defense means he'll never be a total zero and Chicago can give him a very long leash to see whether he can figure things out, and get back to being the player he was a few years ago.
Agent Scott Boras said Tuesday that Bellinger received multiple multi-year offers this offseason, though the plan all along was to sign a one-year contract, rebuild value, then give free agency another try next offseason. If Bellinger does bounce back, the Cubs could try to sign him to a long-term contract, or at least make him the qualifying offer and recoup a draft pick.
The Cubs are expected to very active this offseason and they've been connected to free agent shortstops Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Dansby Swanson in recent weeks. They're also in the market for pitching, and first and third basemen. FanGraphs estimates the team's competitive balance tax payroll at $160.2 million with Bellinger, well south of the $233 million penalty threshold.
Chicago went 74-88 this past season, including 39-31 in the second half. The NL Central is a winnable division, so with the right offseason moves and positive development from incumbent players, there's no reason the Cubs can't be in the mix for a division title in 2023. At minimum, they should be among the clubs in the running for an expanded postseason spot.