Major League Baseball
Cody Bellinger opts for fresh start with Cubs after Dodgers spiral
Major League Baseball

Cody Bellinger opts for fresh start with Cubs after Dodgers spiral

Updated Dec. 7, 2022 6:14 p.m. ET

SAN DIEGO — A 27-year-old who once was on a path toward a $300 million contract signed Tuesday for a tiny fraction of that. Former superstar Cody Bellinger finalized his divorce with the Dodgers and settled on a one-year pillow contract, worth $17.5 million, with the Chicago Cubs

After six seasons and three World Series runs as a mainstay for the powerhouse Dodgers, Bellinger is moving to a team that has not contended over a full season since 2018. He will earn about what he has earned in each of the past two seasons, despite an unprecedented downturn during those years.

Of the 151 players who batted at least 900 times across the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Bellinger’s 69 wRC+, according to FanGraphs, was 151st by a massive margin. The next-worst hitter, defense-first Cleveland center fielder Myles Straw, logged an 81 wRC+, where 100 is league average. Earlier this year, Straw signed an extension that guaranteed him $25 million — over five years.

Last month, the Dodgers opted against committing roughly $19 million to Bellinger for 2023, his final year of arbitration eligibility. A number of teams seemed interested in taking one more chance on him, at a similar rate of pay. He selected Chicago.


Not long ago, Bellinger was the NL MVP. Even including both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, he was one of the sport’s 10 best hitters. But he does not need to hit like he once hit to be worth $17.5 million per season. He just needs to hit at about a Straw-like level. Factoring in Bellinger's elite defense and above-average baserunning, he can be a considerably below-average hitter and still be an average overall player. These days, $17.5 million is the going rate for an average regular. Bellinger possesses the added benefit of positional flexibility. He came up as a first baseman and remains adept at the spot.

"He's a really good fit from the perspective of, it is great defense, great baserunning, left-handed bat, with the potential to have an uptick offensively if that works out," Cubs manager David Ross said Tuesday as the contract came together. "Having another left-handed bat in the lineup, as things shake out right now, would be nice."

The Dodgers had not given up on a reunion with Bellinger until Tuesday. They would have been interested in retaining him at a lesser price, but at the figure he earned from the Cubs, they preferred to turn the position over to less-proven players. Rookie James Outman and late-bloomer Trayce Thompson are now in position to share center field in 2023, although Dodgers manager Dave Roberts promised Tuesday that the club will add an outfielder this offseason, likely one who can handle center. 

President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would not go so far as to commit to any in-house options, but Roberts spoke for him in pushing for those players to receive a chance.

"I just believe, and Andrew and I and the organization believe, there's some young players that need a little room, some runway, some opportunities," Roberts said. "And they're going to have that."

Retaining Bellinger would have made little sense unless the Dodgers could count on supplying him at-bats to resolve his struggles. It is hard to imagine a part-time role would have done the trick. The Cubs, thus, make more sense. They are under less pressure to contend. They also recently hired a former Dodgers minor-league coach, Dustin Kelly, as their hitting coach.

Chicago is a big market, but the 2023 Cubs figure to be a relatively low-stakes location for Bellinger to continue his quest to relocate his old form. That pursuit, it’s clear, failed in Los Angeles. The Dodgers’ hitting staffers are the envy of much of the sport, but they could not fix Bellinger. Maybe no one can.

Or maybe the Cubs will. No one is sure. Bellinger’s career trajectory is already one of the strangest this sport has ever seen. A bounceback would not qualify as any crazier than what has already transpired.

Tuesday marked the official end of Bellinger’s six seasons in Los Angeles. His tenure began better and ended worse than anyone could have imagined. He capitalized on the beginning to secure a still-significant guarantee. 

"I don’t think it’s Cody’s fault," Friedman said. "I don’t think it’s our coaches’ fault. But sometimes, a change of scenery is good. Obviously, he went through this process and found something that he thinks makes more sense for him and his family."

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Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of "How to Beat a Broken Game." Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.


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