Cubs agree to one-year deal with center fielder Cody Bellinger

The one-year deal is worth $17.5 million, a Sun-Times source confirmed.

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Former MVP Cody Bellinger is headed to the Cubs after being non-tendered by the Dodgers last month.

Former MVP Cody Bellinger is headed to the Cubs after being non-tendered by the Dodgers last month.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

SAN DIEGO — Now it’s not just Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer saying that the Cubs will have financial flexibility this offseason.

Agent Scott Boras chimed in on Tuesday afternoon with one of his infamous puns: “I think the Tom Tom drum is finally beating again.”

Hours later, the Cubs made their first big move of the offseason, agreeing to terms with center fielder Cody Bellinger on a one-year contract worth $17.5 million guaranteed, Sun-Times sources confirmed. The deal includes a second-year option that isn’t expected to be exercised but effectively moves about $5 million to next year’s payroll via a buyout.

“There are certain baseball truisms that I think are true,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Monday, “like, being strong up the middle really helps.”

Signing Bellinger is the Cubs’ first step to strengthening their roster up the middle of the field. Adding at shortstop and catcher would continue that process. Bellinger happens to be represented by Boras.

“He’s a player probably a lot of teams are surprised is available,” Boras said earlier on Tuesday. “A 27-year-old, MVP-type guy who suffered an injury and is getting his strength back. There’s a lot of teams that are looking at that as a very serious upside.”

Boras said he’d received multiyear offers for Bellinger, but they preferred a one-year deal.

If Bellinger has a bounce-back year with the Cubs, he would hit free agency again next year with more leverage. The Cubs, in turn, get a player who has shown he can be one of the best in MLB. If they can help him get back to what made him successful in his 2019 MVP season, he’ll provide a big boost to their lineup. If not, they still end up with a strong outfielder in a gamble worth taking.

“It is a really good fit,” Cubs manager David Ross said in abstract, while the move has yet to be made official, “from a perspective of, it is great defense, great baserunning, left-handed bat with the potential to have an uptick offensively.”

Bellinger landed on the free-agent market when the Dodgers non-tendered him last month. He won the National League MVP three years ago. But his offensive production has slipped in the years since. He was hampered by injuries in the 2021 season, and his batting average dipped to .165. This past year, he hit .210 with 19 home runs. 

“A lot of these things, ultimately, there’s sometimes the chicken or the egg,” general manager Carter Hawkins said. “It’s the health first sometimes, and that can then lead to bad habits at the plate. But sometimes it’s just a mental thing, sometimes just a change of scenery.”

Don’t worry, Cubs fans, the team isn’t close to done yet.

“We’re engaged in a lot of different markets,” Hawkins said. “We don’t have to make all of our deals this week — we have months until the season starts, so not looking to hurry anything up — but it definitely feels like an active market right now.”

All eyes have been on reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge as he weighs his free-agency decision. But for the Cubs, who aren’t in that race, the free-agent shortstop market has the larger implications.

Boras is also the agent for two of the three top free-agent shortstops still available as of Tuesday evening — another position the Cubs have been actively involved in. So, he has a strong vantage point to comment on the movement of the market since the Phillies signed Trea Turner on Monday.

“It’s moving pretty fluidly,” Boras said.

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