Dodgers will not tender a contract to Cody Bellinger In his final year of refereeing eligibility, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal says (Twitter link). MLBTR contributor Matt Schwartz is projected to be the 2019 NL MVP with a salary of about $18.1 million. Bellinger will be a free agent once the team officially announces the decision.
It’s not a surprising move at this point, but one that no one would have expected when Bellinger was collecting the MVP trophy three years ago. He blasted 47 home runs that season and posted a .305/.406/.629 total streak across 661 plate appearances. The left-handed hitter seemed to have cemented himself as one of the sport’s premier kickers, hauling a career high .278/.368/.559 in over 1,800 games in 2020. At the age of 24, Bellinger looks like a budding star.
Unfortunately, things have gone south over the past few seasons. He faltered a bit during the shortened 2020 campaign, putting up a .239/.333/.455 streak in 56 games. This was still above average for the production but a notable step back from the numbers for its first few seasons. 245 batting average on balls in play seems to be the main reason for this, and one can certainly point to the anomalies that year in anticipating the ball’s bounce.
This is not the way things have turned out, and it appears to be due in part to the ill-advised post-season celebration. Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder in celebration of a crucial home run in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS. While playing the postseason, he underwent surgery in mid-November. Bellinger was healthy enough to open the 2021 campaign on the roster, but has struggled with a series of unrelated leg and rib problems. In between, his slugging streak dropped to . 165/. 240/. 302 in 95 games.
Los Angeles brought him back last winter, and he avoided arbitration on a $17 million salary. The hoped-for rebound season never really materialized. Bellinger’s numbers for 2022 were an improvement over the previous year but were nowhere near those for previous seasons. In 550 trips to the plate, he ticked .210/.265/.389. That brings him to exactly 900 plate appearances over the past two years, hitting .193/.256/.355. His on-base percentage is the lowest among 151 batters with over 900 trips to the plate, while his batting average is only better than Joey Gallo. He is sixth from bottom in slugging.
Bellinger’s batted ball and power output metrics took a step back, which may indicate that he never regained the explosive power in his swing after shoulder surgery. However, it has also seen a significant rise in strikes, increasing 27.1% of the time after dropping its strike rate from 18% in 2019-20. His walk percentage fell below 7.7%, and manager Dave Roberts increasingly lowered him down the batting order.
With two full seasons of huge offensive struggles under his belt, the Dodgers chose to move on rather than pay the two-time All-Star price in the neighborhood of $18 million. This always seemed more than even the high-spending franchise would be willing to pay, and it’s clear that no other club is willing to offer that kind of salary either. The fact that the Dodgers have supposedly spent the last few weeks gauging the trade market for Bellinger, and that he would be cut for nothing indicates that there wasn’t much interest at that price point.
However, there is no doubt that he will interest the difference as a target to bounce back at a lower cost. To his credit, Bellinger didn’t let his offensive struggles affect his work on the field. He is an elite runner who has moved full time to midfield after emerging as a first baseman and cornerback. Defensive Runs Saved has rated him a roughly average quarterback for the past two years, but Ultimate Zone Rating and Statcast have pegged him above par. Statcast was the most optimistic, rating him seven runs above average in fewer than 1,900 innings from center fielding since the start of the 2021 campaign.
The slightly above-average quarterback field defense plus baserunning gives Bellinger good ground even if he’s not hitting well, though he’s clearly playing more to the upside than a traditional glove. He’ll be looking for a complete reset offensively, but with his campaign approaching at the age of 27, he can certainly still rediscover some of his old form at the plate.
Non-tender players are not subject to waivers, so Bellinger will be a free agent. He and his Boras reps will have the opportunity to gauge interest from other teams, and they’ll take advantage of supply shortages in center field. except Aaron JudgeEx met Brandon Nemo He is the best midfielder available in free agency. The Bellinger is arguably the next best option in the class that also includes Kevin KiermayerAnd the Adam Duvall And the Jackie Bradley Jr
The Mets, Blue Jays, Marlins, Rangers, Rays, Rockies, Astros, Padres and Giants (a team managed by former Los Angeles executive Farhan Zaidi) could all look to an outside help center. It’s speculative for Bellinger, and the Dodgers themselves can keep in touch about a reunion at a lower price point.
Los Angeles can give Mookie PetsAnd the Chris Taylor or Tracy Thompson Increased operation of the center field, but it stands to reason that they would also scour the market for help from outside the organization. Reporting by Bob Nightingale from USA Today (on Twitter) are taking a look at Kiermaier as part of this research.
The proposal to drop the Bellinger arbitration leaves Los Angeles with approximately $152 million in projected 2023 payrolls, per roster supplier, pending additional arbitration awards. Luxury tax liabilities are estimated at about $169 million, which puts it just shy of the base tax threshold of $233 million next year. This does not include an approximate $20 million salary Clayton Kershaw, who is said to be close to a re-signing deal. However, the Dodgers should have plenty of financial breathing space to deal with shortstop, Center Field, third base, and turnover depth that seem like the team’s biggest question marks early in the season.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
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