Cody Bellinger is a free agent. Although unlikely, he could still go back to the Dodgers

The Dodgers had until 5 p.m. on Friday to make a decision Whether it was Cody Bellinger tenderNational League Most Valuable Player 2019, contract for the 2023 season.

It shouldn’t be a big decision. Bellinger won Player of the Week this week, cementing his status as a superstar from three years ago. He is 27 years old. This is the physical pinnacle of his career. Choosing to keep it should have been a formality.

But Bellinger has come away so far from that peak over the past three seasons that the Dodgers weren’t sure if he was worth paying what he expected to earn through refereeing in 2023.

Ultimately, the Dodgers decided that Bellinger, who had been hampered by injuries the previous two years, had strayed too far and did not offer him a contract for the next season, making him a free agent. The club also did not bid for the contracts of player Luke Williams and player Edwin Rios.

“It’s obviously been a unique path for Cody as he’s struggled with injuries and worked hard over the past few years to get back to his all-star caliber performance,” said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. “However, it did not perform as well as we had all hoped or expected, and therefore, we had to make the difficult decision not to bid.”

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Bellinger, who made $17 million in 2022, was expected to receive a salary of $18 million for 2023 through arbitration. Players rarely take a pay cut through the refereeing process even after objectively bad seasons.

Friedman, who acknowledged that the competitive tax credit threshold of $233 million was a factor in the decision, confirmed that the Dodgers would go on to re-sign Bellinger. But they will now have to bid against 29 other clubs in free agency.

The team had two more options for Bellinger before Friday’s deadline: trade him or sign him to a reduced-price contract to avoid arbitration.

Other clubs see Bellinger’s potential as attractive. They envision an elite talent they can remove two years from major shoulder surgery. But they weren’t willing to give up much on a deal to pay Bellinger $18 million next season when they could have waited to sign him in free agency.

A contract before the deadline was always unlikely; Bellinger must have had several suitors vying for his services as a free agent.

We’ve had conversations with [agent] Scott [Boras] Friedman said. “Obviously, the lack of a bid meant we weren’t lined up for anything. But it’s hard to go much further than that.”

Center field has been one of the weakest centers in the majors in 2022. Removing Aaron Judge — who only played center field for the New York Yankees out of necessity and will likely return to right field next season — and Brandon Nimmo’s 5.4 fWAR is the highest in position. which ranked 20th overall. Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez finished second among quarterbacks. Bellinger’s 1.7 fWAR, backed by his defensive prowess, ranked 12th out of 14 qualified center fielders.

Nemo, who has never been an All-Star player before, is expected to secure a $100 million contract this winter as the starting quarterback in free agency. Rodríguez was named AL Rookie of the Week and is seen as a star of the future. But the situation lacks depth. Good everyday position players are valuable commodities, and several teams can be expected to deal with this situation in the off-season.

Other Dodgers inside quarterback options include Trayce Thompson, Chris Taylor and James Outman.

Dodgers players Trace Thompson, left, Cody Bellinger, center, and Mookie Betts celebrate victory over the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 1.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Thompson was a surprise contributor after the Dodgers acquired him from the Detroit Tigers for cash in June, but he’s 31 and hasn’t appeared in more than 80 games in a major league season. Taylor played just 10 games at center field and sluggish defense last season while batting . 221 with 160 strikeouts in 454 games. Outman’s major league career consists of four games.

Despite his recent offensive troubles, Bellinger has remained a crowd favorite in Los Angeles, putting up first-rate defense and having the ability to bounce back in the hitting zone. Finding a suitable replacement will not be as easy as it may seem at first.

Bellinger has dealt with injuries since his MVP campaign – most notably a right shoulder problem that required major surgery in November 2020 and a fractured fibula in April 2021 – but his offensive slump nonetheless remains excruciating. Three years ago, the question was whether the Dodgers could lock up Bellinger with a long-term contract extension before he experienced free agency.

He was already a two-time All-Star with the Rookie of the Year award on his resume. 305 with 47 home runs and a 1.035 on plus slugging percentage to beat Christian Yelich for Most Valuable Player. Bellinger led the NL in World War II and WWII. He was awarded a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove for his work in right field.

The Dodgers thought they had a young franchise to build around. Bellinger then became one of the worst hitters in Major League Baseball over the next three seasons.

Cody Bellinger walks into the dugout before a game against the Angels in July.

Cody Bellinger walks into the dugout before a game against the Angels in July.

(Alex Gallardo/The Associated Press)

203 batting average is tied for the third-worst in the majors during that span. His .648 OPS was sixth from bottom. His wRC+ 78 was the fourth-lowest mark among players with at least 1,000 Billboard appearances.

His most productive season of the three was the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign when he batted . 239 with 12 home runs and a . 789 OPS in 56 games. The numbers represented a significant drop, but he was one of several cross-major stars to slip through during the odd season. Meanwhile, his defense in the middle was excellent.

That October, Bellinger hit three home runs with a . 911 OPS in 12 games through the National League Championship Series. His third home run gave the Dodgers a one-run lead in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, and he completed his return in the seventh inning. It was the swing of the change of season. Emotions ran high, so badly that Bellinger and Kiki Hernandez smashed his forearms so badly that Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder.

Bellinger, who immediately felt obvious pain, stayed in the game and didn’t miss any time during the World Series. The Dodgers beat the Tampa Rays in six games to win the championship even though Bellinger — who was the team’s designated hitter in Game 4 — went three-for-22 in the series. He had arthroscopic surgery the following month and returned for the start of the 2021 season, but his struggles only worsened.

Bellinger made it to the injured list three times in 2021, and played in just 95 games during the regular season. 165 with a 0.542 OPS, poor numbers by any measure.

However, he was one of the Dodgers’ best hitters in the postseason, hitting . 353 with a . 906 OPS in 12 games. Bellinger had a go-ahead RBI single in Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants and a three-run home run against the Braves in Game 3 of the NLCS. Become a star again. He was never single in 2022.

Instead, Bellinger batted . 219 with 150 hits and 0.654 OPS in 144 games. The Dodgers gave him opportunities to turn things around, and stuck with him as an everyday center fielder until September when they began pitting him against left-handed pitchers.

Then, in an upset, the team elected to bench a right-handed player facing elimination in Game 4 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres. Bellinger flew in an affected appearance in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ season-ending loss.

A few days later, Bellinger was back in action at the Dodgers’ spring training facility in Arizona three times a week. On Friday, Friedman called Bellinger to tell him the bad news. He noted that Bellinger was a “total professional” and “class work” during their conversation, an unfathomable conclusion for a period that reached rare heights just three years ago.

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