Center fielder Cody Bellinger and the Cubs have agreed on a three-year, $80 million contract, sources told ESPN, ending a lengthy free agency with a return commitment after his breakout 2023 season with Chicago.
Bellinger, 28, will receive opt-outs after the first and second years of the deal, sources said. He will receive a salary of $30 million this season, $30 million in 2025 (if he does not opt out after the first year) and $20 million in 2026 (if he does not opt out after the second year), according to sources.
After a season in which he hit .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs, Bellinger entered free agency hoping to land a mega contract. A robust market never materialized, and Bellinger took a similar path to Carlos Correa, with whom he shares an agent in Scott Boras.
Before the 2022 season, Correa signed a three-year, $105 million contract with Minnesota when no team offered him a longer-term deal he deemed worthy of signing. Correa opted out after the first season and returned to the Twins on a six-year, $200 million contract after medical issues scuttled deals with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. Bellinger’s deal is pending a physical.
Bellinger’s health in 2023 allowed him to thrive in a season that earned him the National League Comeback Player of the Year award. Bellinger, who finished 10th in NL MVP voting, nearly halved his strikeout rate from previous seasons and also proved adept against left-handed pitchers, batting .337 against them with a . 984.
Before joining the Cubs, Bellinger was coming off two losing seasons after being hampered by a lingering shoulder injury from the 2020 playoffs. And while he produced the lowest average exit velocity of his career in 2023 (just 87.9 mph) , Bellinger often shortened his two-strike swing, making softer contact but avoiding strikeouts. His miss rate plummeted to a career-low 15.6% as he hit .279 with two strikes, second in all of baseball behind Luis Arráez.
Bellinger returns to a Cubs team that has patiently waited out a free agent market that still includes NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, World Series star Jordan Montgomery and All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman. After signing left-hander Shota Imanaga to a four-year, $53 million contract, the Cubs added reliever Hector Neris to a one-year, $9 million contract. Chicago also traded for former Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Michael Busch, who will compete for the first base job.
Bellinger can play there or center, and the Cubs valued his versatility last season, using him 84 times in the outfield and 59 times in the infield. He established himself as a two-way star with the Dodgers, with whom he won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 2019 after hitting .305/.406/ .629.
He fell in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and got worse in 2021, hitting .165/.240/.302 with 10 home runs in 95 games. With his health still in question during the 2022 season, he hit .210/.265/.389 with 19 home runs in 144 games and was non-tendered by the Dodgers that season.
Bellinger went to Chicago for $17.5 million, won a Silver Slugger, picked up a $25 million option for this season and entered a market that looked promising for the best hitter available. General managers considered the asking price too high, and as Bellinger remained on the market, the number of teams committed to spending money dwindled.
Teams have pointed to the uncertainty of local television broadcast rights as an impetus for not spending. Aside from the Dodgers, who committed more than $1 billion, no team has exceeded the $200 million mark in free agent spending.
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers contributed to this report.