The 27-year-old Bellinger continued to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, in addition to plus speed on the bases, but he continued to struggle offensively.
He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player after a 2019 season in which he batted .305/.406/.629 with 47 home runs, 115 RBIs and 15 stolen bases while being worth 7.7 FanGraphs wins above replacement. Since then, though, Bellinger has batted just .203/.272/.376 over a stretch of 295 regular-season games. His .648 OPS from 2020 to 2022 ranked 299th out of the 338 qualified hitters during that stretch.
"He's a really good fit from a perspective of it is great defense, great base running, left-handed bat with the potential to have an uptick offensively," Cubs manager David Ross said Tuesday from the winter meetings.
Bellinger ventured into the free agent market a year early after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers following the 2022 season. He had been due to make in the neighborhood of $18 million in 2023.
The Cubs are attempting a quick retooling of their roster after saying goodbye to stars Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez in recent years. Bellinger provides them a solid glove in center while he attempts to recoup his value at the plate.
He's likely viewed as a placeholder for prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong -- the player they got from the New York Mets for Baez in 2021. If the Cubs field a contending team, Bellinger could help them return to the postseason for the first time since 2018. If they struggle -- and Bellinger is performing -- he could be traded at the July deadline as the team makes way for Crow-Armstrong. If he continues to struggle, the Cubs will have wasted $17.5 million -- but at least it would be for just one season.
Earlier on Tuesday, Bellinger's agent, Scott Boras, said he was fielding multiyear offers for Bellinger but wanted a one-year deal so he could reenter free agency after the 2023 season, hopefully after a better performance than in recent seasons.
Bellinger's batting average plummeted to .165 in 2021. Last season he hit .210 with 19 home runs in 144 games for a Dodgers team that set a franchise record with 111 wins.
In six MLB seasons, all with Los Angeles, Bellinger has a career .248 batting average with 152 home runs, 422 RBIs and 62 stolen bases. The two-time All-Star selection was NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and NLCS MVP in 2018, and won a World Series ring in 2020.