The Los Angeles Dodgers plan to non-tender outfielder Cody Bellinger, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, parting ways with the 27-year-old just three years after he won NL MVP.
Bellinger emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball early in his MLB career. As a rookie in 2017, he slashed .267/.352/.581 with 39 home runs, 97 RBI and a .933 OPS in 132 games. Los Angeles believed it found its next star, viewing Bellinger as a core piece for years to come.
After a breakout rookie season, including hitting for the cycle, Bellinger, continued to play well. He hit 25 home runs with a .260/.343/.470 slash line and .814 OPS in 2018, going on to win NLCS MVP. On the upward trajectory, it all led to a memorable 2019 season.
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In the first half of the 2019 season, Bellinger hit 30 home runs with 70 runs scored, a 56/54 K/BB ratio, a .336/.432/.692 slash and a 1.124 OPS. The first-half domination allowed him to win NL MVP, even after posting a .263/.371/.546 line with 17 home runs in the second half.
Bellinger never recaptured his All-Star form. Constant tweaking of his swing and a new approach by pitchers resulted in staggering regression. It’s all culminated in him becoming one of the worst hitters in MLB over the last two years.
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- Cody Bellinger stats (2021-’22): .193/.256/.355, 29 home runs, .611 OPS in 900 PAs
Set to make nearly $18 million guaranteed in 2023, Los Angeles is parting ways with Bellinger. Following his release into free agency, several teams could emerge as potential landing spots in a buy-low opportunity.
Evaluating 3 destinations for Cody Bellinger in free agency
Boston Red Sox
While re-signing Xander Bogaerts is the top priority for the Boston Red Sox, the club is also exploring other ways to improve its roster. Landing one of the high-priced outfielders is unlikely, but Bellinger’s sudden availability could make him an attractive target.
Boston would need to set realistic expectations for Bellinger. He is years removed from being an All-Star hitter, even spending significant time on the bench in Los Angeles over the past two years. He is now a platoon player, who could see the lineup vs right-handed pitchers (92 wRC+, .203 ISO, .684 OPS) and ride the bench when facing southpaws (63 wRC+, .583 OPS, .120 ISO). With the Red Sox clearly in the market for quality defenders in center field who offer some upside at the plate, Bellinger could be the right fit at a reasonable cost.
Toronto Blue Jays
After trading Teoscar Hernandez, the Toronto Blue Jays put themselves in the market for another outfielder. Toronto’s lineup is right-handed heavy, which makes Bellinger an appealing option for the club. It should also come as no surprise that the Blue Jays already expressed interest in Bellinger before he was non-tendered.
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This could be viewed as an opportunity for a reclamation project. While Bellinger isn’t close to being an MVP-caliber player at this point, a change of scenery could help him significantly. New coaches can work on his swing and the impact it can have on him mentally would also prove. beneficial for him at the plate. Plus, he’d also provide a significant defensive upgrade in center.
San Francisco Giants
Before taking over as the San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi worked as the Dodgers’ general manager from 2014-’18. While his time in Los Angeles didn’t overlap with the Dodgers drafting Bellinger (2013 MLB Draft), he witnessed his development in the minor leagues and his ascension as a top prospect.
San Francisco also needs all the help it can get next season. Giants’ center fielders ranked 22nd in FanGraphs’ Defensive grading (-1.8). This is also an organization that places added value on defense and versatility, two things that Bellinger offers.
Signing Bellinger wouldn’t stop the Giants from pursuing a premium free-agent slugger to add tot he heart of the lineup. He could be a platoon outfielder, something the front office loves, and San Francisco’s hitting coaches have a strong track record of helping get more out of players. Given Zaidi’s history of reclamation projects and adding some of his former players, Bellinger could be on San Francisco’s radar.