CHICAGO (AP)Cody Bellinger is looking forward to a fresh start with the Chicago Cubs and showing he can again be a productive hitter.
He went from winning the NL MVP with the Dodgers in 2019 to being cut by Los Angeles in November. The years in between were marked by injuries and plummeting production.
”It’s tough,” he said Tuesday. ”I’m not going to lie. But I think at the end of it all, I’m going to look back and be appreciative that it happened and going to be able to learn from it. I have learned from it. I think it’s going to be better for the longevity of my career.”
He gets a chance to prove it with the Cubs, after agreeing to a $17.5 million, one-year contract three weeks ago, a deal finalized last Wednesday.
”I think I just wanted to go out and find a place where I felt comfortable,” Bellinger said. ”Also an environment that is exciting, that has a good baseball environment. We thought it was a great fit. I’m going to just play baseball on a good team in a cool place and I’m very excited about that.”
The Cubs hope he can experience a bit of a resurgence at the plate while giving them an elite glove in center field as they try to climb back toward contention. They finished third in the NL Central at 74-88. It was their second straight losing season after making the playoffs five of the previous six years, but they went 40-31 in their final 71 games.
The deal with Bellinger is among three major moves by the Cubs since the end of the season, the biggest coming last week when they agreed to a $177 million, seven-year contract with All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson that remains pending. The Cubs also signed right-hander Jameson Taillon to a four-year contract that is worth roughly $68 million.
”It’s very exciting,” Bellinger said. ”When I met with them, they said that they’re looking to continue. I didn’t know exactly what that meant. It just goes to show they want to give fans some excitement.”
Bellinger was thrilled when the Cubs landed Swanson.
His addition likely means Nico Hoerner moves to second base. With Bellinger in center, the Cubs figure to be as strong as any team in the majors when it comes to defense up the middle.
”I’ve played against Dansby a lot – in a lot of playoff series as well,” he said. ”He’s an incredible player, a good person, a great teammate. He’s going to bring a lot to this team. I think it’s a very, very good sign, and I’m excited to play alongside with him.”
Bellinger has battled injuries since his MVP season, including having surgery on his right shoulder in November 2020. Before the drop-off, he was the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2018 National League Championship Series MVP. He made two All-Star teams and won a Gold Glove in 2019.
Bellinger was cut by the Dodgers on Nov. 18 after hitting .210 with 19 homers, 150 strikeouts and a .654 OPS in 144 games.
He was limited to 95 games during the 2021 regular season when he was on the injured list three times and batted .165. He hit .353 in 12 games in that postseason and had the go-ahead RBI single in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the rival San Francisco Giants. Bellinger also had a tying, three-run homer against Atlanta in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series.
In 2020, Bellinger hit .239 with 12 home runs in 56 games during the pandemic-shortened season. He homered three times in the NLCS, and the Dodgers beat the Braves to reach the World Series. They went on to defeat Tampa Bay in six games to win the franchise’s first title since 1988.
”You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it,” Bellinger said. ”There were definitely injuries involved. Your body wasn’t moving how you’re used to. I can go on and on. But looking forward, where I’m at right now is I’m feeling really good and confident and strong. I’m looking forward to it.”
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