Chicago Cubs 2023 Season Preview: Center Fielder Cody Bellinger

Oct 11, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Trayce Thompson (25),
Oct 11, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Trayce Thompson (25), / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs' long-term solution in center field appears to be top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong but given that Crow-Armstrong is likely to begin the 2023 season with Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs were in need of a temporary stopgap in center field at the Major League level.

Enter Cody Bellinger as Bellinger hit the free-agent market in December after being non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers. In need of a change of scenery as he attempts to inch closer to being the player that won the National League MVP Award in 2019, Bellinger opted to sign with the Cubs on a one-year prove-it deal.

Bellinger's offensive struggles since 2019 have been well documented but the outfielder has spoken openly this offseason about how healthy his shoulder feels.

Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation did a tremendous job at breaking down recent comments that Jed Hoyer made on "The Show" podcast hosted by Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman.

"Cody Bellinger has been working at the Cubs’ facility in Arizona every day since he signed with the team. Hoyer really liked that as soon as they started talking to Bellinger, it was clear that he strictly wanted a one-year deal in a place where he could rebuild himself. That was exactly the right fit for the Cubs, too, and it leaves Hoyer feeling even more optimistic that Bellinger can be a productive player again this year (just don’t bet on a return to MVP-level)."

Brett Taylor via Bleacher Nation

2023 FanGraphs ZiPS projections: .230/.309/.406/.309 wOBA/99 wRC+, 18 home runs, 2.5 fWAR

2023 Baseball Reference Projections: .212/.278/.379/.657 17 home runs and 22 doubles

Between the two formulas, if the Cubs are able to get the production out of Bellinger that the FanGraphs ZiPS module projects, they certainly will take it. When talking about Bellinger, it is hard not to evaluate his value to the Cubs as many will point to the struggles that he has offensively over the past three seasons. Despite the hardware that Bellinger has to his name, National League MVP, National League Rookie of the Year, and World Series winner, the center fielder should strictly be viewed as a temporary stopgap where his main value to the team will be on defense.

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Having said that, if Bellinger can find some offensive resurgence this season, that would be an important piece to the Cubs' 2023 puzzle. Entering the season, the Cubs are still a team that may come up short on offense. There is no doubt that the team has raised the collective floor of their expected offensive production in 2023 but this is still a team that lacks a true impact hitter. Bellinger likely won't reach that status in 2023 but if he fares closely to what ZiPS projects, that will be a good outcome for the Cubs.