Cubs hoping they can get the right numbers from Cody Bellinger

Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger looks over in the dugout before a baseball game.
Cody Bellinger looks over in the dugout before a game against the Angels last season. Cody Bellinger’s career with the Dodgers ended after three straight poor seasons.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The next chapter in Cody Bellinger’s professional baseball career began Saturday with a mistake as he walked to the plate for his first at-bat as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

“Number 35,” the public address announcer bellowed at Sloan Park, “Cody Bellinger!”

The problem: Bellinger isn’t No. 35 anymore. That was his number with the Dodgers. Those days are over. He’s No. 24 now. The blue is a little different. There’s a little more red. He’s playing for a team without World Series expectations for the first time in his career, but the pressure to recapture his All-Star form remains.

It didn’t take long for the Dodgers to see how the pitch clock and new MLB rules for the 2023 season will affect games, and they like the changes.

Feb. 25, 2023

Bellinger’s time with the Dodgers abruptly ended before anyone could have expected in the not-so-distant past. He was non-tendered in November with one year of club control remaining. His drop-off over the previous three seasons was steep, but the move was still jarring. The wound evidently hasn’t healed.


For four days, Bellinger did not appear in the clubhouse when it was open for the media after being informed of an interview request from a Los Angeles reporter. On the third day, he took the long way off a backfield to avoid the reporter and a Los Angeles television crew.

He formally declined to speak through a Cubs spokesperson on the fourth day, Saturday, after going 0 for two with a strikeout in his Cubs spring training debut. Bellinger did not make the trip to Camelback Ranch on Sunday for the game against the Dodgers.

“The truth of it is until he was non-tendered, I really did not really have a lot of conversations with the Dodgers because I felt it was rather a matter of fact that he would continue with them because they had rights over him,” Scott Boras, Bellinger’s agent, said last week. “I had no idea that they would non-tender him.”

Cody Bellinger in a Chicago Cubs uniform.
Former Dodgers center field Cody Bellinger will be patrolling the outfield at Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs this season.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Boras had good reason. Bellinger, 27, batted .203 with a .648 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over the last three seasons, but he was named National League MVP the year before. He’s a former rookie of the year and a two-time All-Star. He has a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in his trophy case. He became a fan favorite in Los Angeles over six seasons, helping them reach the postseason every year and win a World Series title in 2020.

But the Dodgers determined paying Bellinger $18 million, the salary projected via arbitration, was too much. They decided releasing the center fielder with the hopes of re-signing him for much cheaper was better than paying that price.

Boras said he met with Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, during the winter meetings the first week of December. Friedman explained not tendering Bellinger a contract was an “economic decision” and they were open to re-signing him at a lower price.


Boras said 11 teams contacted him regarding Bellinger the day he was let go. Bellinger eventually agreed on a one-year contract worth $17.5 million guaranteed with the Cubs during the winter meetings.

“We felt like there was a lot of upside there,” Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said. “When you see someone that actually played at that level before, it’s a lot easier to project that he could get back to it than someone who never has.”

The Dodgers will enter the 2023 season with uncertainty in center field after losing out on free agent Kevin Kiemaier. Jason Heyward, Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson are candidates to split time there.

“The marketplace was very different as to what the Dodgers thought Cody’s value was,” Boras said.

Bellinger’s production tumbled during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season after winning the MVP award. He then dislocated his shoulder during the National League Championship Series. The injury required surgery in November, which, by all accounts, sapped his strength in 2021.

Cody Bellinger flies out during his final at-bat for the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Landing on the injured list three times — he fractured his fibula, dealt with hamstring tightness, and broke a rib — limited him to 95 games. He batted .165 with a .542 OPS, but the Dodgers still believed in his talent.

The numbers improved in 2022 but not by much. He hit .210 with a .654 OPS in 144 games. He was relegated to a platoon — not starting against left-handed pitchers — by September. The demotion took another step with the season on the line in Game 4 of the National League Division Series when he was benched against San Diego Padres right-hander Joe Musgrove.

Cubs officials said Bellinger will play every day in center field. Their focus is on two areas: his health, which they believe will produce more consistent mechanics.

“I think all of those things are intertwined,” Hawkins said. “It’s always something at the lower end of the chain that affects something on the upper end of the chain. The body’s a system. The swing is a system. And you can’t do one thing without affecting the other.”

Bellinger spent time during offseason training with former major league player Matt Holliday and his son Jackson — the top overall pick in last year’s draft — at Oklahoma State before signing with Chicago. Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly, who previously worked in the Dodgers organization, said he began working with Bellinger at the Cubs’ complex in Arizona two days after he signed.

“Gold Glove, rookie of the year, MVP, to have that at 27, we were all like, ‘Wow, this is going to be awesome,’” Kelly said. “And it’s been great. He’s been open to everything we’ve kind of thrown at him. And then he’s had some great ideas of his own that we’ve started to incorporate a little bit more with some of his training.”


Hoyer said the club has emphasized Bellinger being more of an athlete in the batter’s box and focusing less on adjustments.

With Freddie Freeman a year more comfortable, the Dodgers are hoping he can take on a leadership role this season while staying consistent on the field.

Feb. 22, 2023

“The Dodgers are really good at what they do,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said, “but sometimes getting a guy out of a certain environment can really help.”

Cubs manager David Ross acknowledged Bellinger has a point to prove before hitting free agency again. Maybe his days as an MVP candidate are over. But there’s plenty of room between his monster 2019 season and his production over the last three years. Millions of dollars are at stake.

The trial launched Saturday with a blunder over the sound system before the public address announcer got the number right for his next at-bat. It’s the kind of rebound Bellinger needs, too.