In a move that would have been unthinkable two seasons ago, the Dodgers decided Non-tender Outfielder Cody Bellinger before Friday’s deadline. The move makes Bellinger, the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player, a free agent for the first time in his career.
Bellinger was slated to make around $18 million to $20 million in his final arbitration season. Given Bellinger’s subpar production in each of the past two seasons, the Dodgers simply weren’t comfortable paying Bellinger, leading them to make the difficult decision.
The move doesn’t necessarily end Bellinger’s time in Los Angeles. According to a source, the Dodgers will try to bring Bellinger back on the cheap, but that will be a difficult task as there are expected to be plenty of suitors in the center fielder’s market.
Bellinger’s expected high volume of suitors will likely tap into what once made him one of the best players in the league. Bellinger hit 39 homers in 2017 and earned NL Rookie of the Year honors. In ’19, he hit 47 homers and beat Christian Yelich for his first MVP award.
That type of production became what the Dodgers and Bellinger had hoped for, but it was impossible to replicate. In ’20, Bellinger dislocated his non-throwing shoulder while hitting a homer in Game 7 of the NLCS. He underwent offseason surgery that sidelined him for a few weeks in spring training.
21 In the first week of the season, Bellinger fractured his left fibula during a freak game against the A’s. As he battled injuries, Bellinger finished the year with 10 homers and a .542 OPS, one of the worst in the majors among qualifying hitters.
Entering the ’22 season, the Dodgers and Bellinger were hoping for a bounceback season. Bellinger came to spring training excited about his added strength. But the results never came, and he posted a .654 OPS in 22 of 144 games. The lack of production eventually led the Dodgers to bench Bellinger in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Padres, even with right-hander Joe Musgrove on the mound.
Bellinger will be 27 next season and still plays elite defense in center field. The argument to offer him a contract gave him one last chance to figure things out in Los Angeles. But while the Dodgers need to improve other positions on the roster, primarily the starting pitching staff, his price tag has become too high at this point in the offseason.
With Bellinger off the roster, the Dodgers have Drace Thompson and Chris Taylor to play center field. Mooky boxes can also slide from time to time. They also keep tabs on free-agent outfielders like Kevin Kiermaier.