Three years removed from winning the NL MVP award, Cody Bellinger was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers last month. Despite Bellinger’s shortcomings over the past two seasons, finding a suitor was not going to be hard for a player who at one point was considered one of the game’s most feared hitters. Now, Bellinger has found a new home. The former NL Rookie of the Year & MVP is headed to the Cubs, a team that is not only on the rise, but one to watch moving forward this offseason.
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A Look at Bellinger
This type of scenario was hard to envision for Cody Bellinger just three years ago. In the 2019 season, Bellinger amassed 47 home runs, and had an incredible 1.035 OPS and 167 OPS+ for a dominant Dodgers ballclub. He won the NL MVP award that year, just two seasons removed from a 39 home campaign and an NL Rookie of the Year award. Cody Bellinger was seemingly poised for greatness, but it’s been a slippery slope since then.
Cody Bellinger posted a .239/.333/.455 slash line during the shortened 2020 season. It wasn’t the best showing, but the now-former Dodger did come through later in that postseason. Bellinger his four home runs during the 2020 Playoffs for the World Series winners, highlighted by a shot in the seventh inning of Game 7 in the 2020 NLCS. That home run put the Dodgers in front of the Atlanta Braves for good, locking up LA’s third pennant in four seasons.
Bellinger missed the early part of the 2021 season due to injury. Since his return, the Arizona native has failed to find his pre-2020 form. Over the past two seasons, Bellinger has recorded a paltry .193/.256/.355 slash line. The 27-year old’s inability to produce outweighed any prior achievements, hence the non-tender from the Dodgers earlier this season. Now, Bellinger looks to rebound with the Chicago Cubs.
What it Means for the Cubs and the League
A number of teams made sense for Cody Bellinger, a center fielder who still possesses strong defensive skills. Yet, the key will be whether Bellinger can round back into form with a Cubs team that is looking to improve after a 74-88 campaign in 2022.
Bellinger does still possess power, despite the low home run totals in 2021 (10) and 2022 (19). Both Bellinger’s average exit velocity and Barrel% were slightly above average, a good sign. Cody Bellinger also had one of the league’s highest pull rates in 2022, an interesting point given that shifts will virtually be removed from the equation in 2023. That, on the surface, would lead one to think that Bellinger may get a reprieve in that regard come next season. However, that might not be the case.
While Cody Bellinger traditionally does tend to pull the baseball, much of his contact in 2021 & 2022 has led to popups and easy fly balls. Both Bellinger’s Topped% in 2021 (36.6%) and 2022 (35.8%) are not just above his normal, but also well-above league average. In order for Cody Bellinger to return to at least some of what he was from 2017-2019, he will need to re-adjust his approach, and cut down on chasing. That, however, is easier said that done.
Chicago, on the other hand, would benefit greatly from a Cody Bellinger resurgence. The Cubs ranked 17th in baseball last season in OPS (.698), and a healthy Bellinger could be a boost to that figure in the best case scenario. The key, though, will be what else does Chicago do after this move.
Chicago already has Ian Happ, the free-swinging Christopher Morel and Seiya Suzuki in the outfield picture for 2023, assuming Happ doesn’t get moved. The signing of Bellinger should set up the outfield for this season, but what about the infield? Chicago has been rumored to at least one of the three big shortstops left on the market. The Cubs already have Nico Hoerner in the infield, but adding a name like Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts or Carlos Correa to that lineup be a major step in the right direction for a reloading Chicago team. All three are big-name bats are consistent hitters that can drive in runs, something that the Cubs sorely need in order to compete with St. Louis and Milwaukee.