The Dodgers do not offer contracts to tenders. Cody Bellinger For final arbitration eligibility, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter link). MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pegged the 2019 NL MVP for a salary of around $18.1MM. Bellinger will become a free agent after the team officially announces his decision.
It’s not a surprising move at this point, but it’s one that no one expected when Bellinger collected the MVP trophy three years ago. He blasted 47 home runs that season and posted an overall .305/.406/.629 line in 661 plate appearances. The left-handed hitter appears to have solidified himself as one of the sport’s premier sluggers and carries a .278/.368/.559 mark into 2020 in over 1,800 plate appearances. .
Unfortunately, things have gone south over the past few seasons. He put up a .239/.333/.455 line in 56 games and stumbled a bit during the 2020 shortstop. That was still above-average production, but a significant step back from the numbers of the first few seasons. A putrid .245 batting average on balls seems to be the main cause of that, and assuming one makes a comeback, it could point to oddities that year.
It just didn’t work out that way, apparently due in part to bad advice after the season. Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder while hitting a pivotal home run in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS. While playing post-grad games, he underwent surgery in mid-November. Bellinger was healthy enough to open the 2021 campaign on the roster, but battled non-consecutive leg and rib issues. In between, his slash line dipped to a paltry .165/.240/.302 in 95 innings.
LA brought him back last summer, avoiding arbitration on his $17MM salary. But their comeback never quite materialized. Bellinger’s 2022 numbers are improved from last year, but nowhere near past seasons. In 550 trips to the plate, he posted a .210/.265/.389 mark. That brings him to exactly 900 plate appearances over the last two years, where he hit .193/.256/.355. His on-base percentage is the lowest with 151 hitters with 900+ trips to the dish, while his batting average is only better. Joey Gallo. He is sixth from the bottom in jumping.
Bellinger’s batted ball metrics and power output have taken a step back, which could indicate that he hasn’t quite found his explosion in his swing since shoulder surgery. However, in 2019-20, after keeping his rebound rate below 18%, he saw a significant increase to 27.1% of the time. His walk percentage fell below his average of 7.7 percent, and manager Dave Roberts dropped him further in the batting order.
With two full seasons of massive offensive struggles under his belt, the Dodgers opted to move on rather than pay the two-time All-Star around $18MM. That always seems to be more than even the most expensive franchise is willing to pay, and no other club is willing to pay that kind of salary. The Dodgers have reportedly spent the past few weeks gauging the trade market for Bellinger, and the fact that he’s being cut for nothing shows there wasn’t much interest at that price point.
That means he’ll no doubt be a return target for teams at a lower cost. To his credit, Bellinger hasn’t let his offensive struggles affect his work on the field. He is an elite runner who has transitioned full-time to center field after coming up as a first baseman and corner outfielder. Defensive runs have given him an average field goal over the past two years, but Ultimate Zone Rating and Statcast have him overrated. Since the start of the 2021 campaign, Statcast has been bullish, estimating that he has hit seven above average in less than 1,900 innings of career.
Above-average center field defense and baserunning give Bellinger a good floor even if he doesn’t hit well. He needs a complete reset offensively, but he can certainly still recapture some of his old form at the plate as he heads into his age-27 campaign.
Untendered players are not subject to release, so Bellinger will be a free agent. He and Boras Corporation representatives will have the opportunity to gauge interest from other teams, and benefit from the lack of midfield supply. Except Aaron JudgeFormer Met Brandon Nimmo He is the top center fielder available in free agency. Bellinger also argues that he will be the next-best option in the division Kevin Kiermaier, Adam Duvall And Jackie Bradley Jr
The Mets, Blue Jays, Marlins, Rangers, Rays, Rockies, Astros, Padres and Giants (a team led by former LA executive Farhan Zadi) could all look to outsiders for centerfield help. They’re speculative for Bellinger, and the Dodgers themselves may remain concerned about the potential connection at a lower price point.
Los Angeles can provide Mookie Betts, Chris Taylor Or Trace Thompson Midfield runs have increased, but it’s a sign they’ll be scouting the market for help outside of the organization. As USA Today’s Bob Nightingale reports (On Twitter) are looking at Kiermaier as part of the search.
Deducting Bellinger’s arbitration projection leaves LA with around 152MM in projected 2023 payroll. Directory resource, pending further arbitration decisions. Luxury tax liabilities are estimated at $169m, leaving them just shy of the $233m basic tax threshold next year. That doesn’t include an estimated $20MM salary. Clayton KershawHe is said to be close to re-signing the contract. Still, the Dodgers should have plenty of financial breathing room to address what appear to be the team’s biggest question marks at shortstop, center field, third base and the closer.
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