Dodgers Non-Tender Cody Bellinger Still Has Options
Despite being a good hitter, Dodgers non-tender Cody Bellinger’s batted ball metrics aren’t as good as they’ve been in previous seasons. His defense has regressed, which will eventually make him an expendable player. However, the Dodgers still have another option to replace him – Kevin Kiermaier.
Kevin Kiermaier is a possible replacement
Several teams have expressed interest in Kevin Kiermaier, a free agent center fielder, including the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kiermaier spent the entirety of his ten-year career with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was considered one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. In 2020, Kiermaier played a major role in the Rays’ World Series run.
In a recent report by Ken Rosenthal, Kiermaier was cited as a possible replacement for Cody Bellinger. Despite having less power, Bellinger and Kiermaier are very similar players at this point in their careers. Both players have average offensive skills, although Bellinger has slightly better average and base-stealing prowess.
The Dodgers are in need of outfield help, and they could look for a cheaper option to replace Bellinger. The Dodgers have several players in their system who are arbitration-eligible, including outfielders Chris Taylor, Trayce Thompson, and James Outman.
They could try to re-sign Bellinger at a lower salary, or they could use the free agent market to add a center fielder. It’s possible that they could try to sign Aaron Judge, who is widely rumored to be interested in joining the Dodgers. They’ll also have to scout the market for outside help.
Bellinger had a $18 million arbitration salary, and the Dodgers felt that he was not worth that kind of money. Bellinger was set to be a free agent after the 2023 season. However, Dodgers general manager Andrew Friedman stated that the club may re-sign Bellinger to a lower salary.
While Bellinger is an offensive star, he has struggled at the plate over the past two seasons. He has been rated as an average center fielder the last two years.
The Dodgers would like to add a league-average offense to their center field, and a center fielder with Gold Glove defense would be a good fit. They’d also be able to give their center fielder a chance to play left field if Aaron Judge departs.
Kevin Kiermaier is also a player the Dodgers are interested in, according to a report by MLB columnist Bob Nightengale. Kiermaier is an average offensive player, but he has good defense.
Aaron Judge isn’t a center fielder
Several teams have reportedly jumped at the chance to sign Aaron Judge. The San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers are listed as the top destinations, but there are other teams that aren’t completely out of the running.
Aaron Judge is one of the most recognizable players in baseball. He grew up in Northern California and attended California State University, Fresno. He is also one of the most physically dominant outfielders in the game. He has an impressive batting average, and is also a strong contact hitter.
Aaron Judge’s best year was in 2017, when he hit a record 33 home runs. He is also second in the American League in batting average and on-base percentage, and led the league in runs scored, total bases, and RBIs. He’s also logged a remarkable 1.000 fielding percentage in center field.
During the Pandemic Era, Judge has accrued more WAR than any other player. He has also made the best contact in baseball. He’s also hit more home runs than any other player in the American League. His slugging percentage is also among the best in baseball.
The Dodgers have shown an interest in Judge before. In fact, the Dodgers have often leveraged spending power over shorter-term deals to help build a contender. In the case of Judge, it is unlikely that the Dodgers would be involved in a long-term deal.
However, the Dodgers would be interested in Betts. He has experience playing second base, and can also play center field. In 2022, Betts started five games at second base. He has also taken ground balls at second base. He could be a viable center field option if the Dodgers decide to move Bellinger to shortstop.
Several teams have shown interest in Aaron Judge, including the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers. He could be a steal for these teams.
If Aaron Judge were to sign with one of these teams, it would be a huge boon for the player, and a huge boon for the team. The Yankees, however, have the most to lose.
His batted ball metrics aren’t as good as previous seasons
Earlier this year, Bellinger’s batted ball metrics looked a bit underwhelming. His strikeout rate was below 20%, his slugging percentage on air pulls was a little below the league average, and his total run value was down. But he did improve on some of these metrics toward the end of the year. He also improved his contact skills and access to power.
Bellinger has been a top offensive threat in the postseason. In six games against the Tampa Bay Rays, he was a.347 hitter with a.447 slugging percentage, a.412 OPS, and a.512 on-base percentage. Against left-handed pitchers, Bellinger was a.886 hitter with a.527 slugging percentage, a.432 OPS, and a.512 on-base percentage.
Bellinger has also shown a marked uptick in strikeouts. He has a strikeout rate of 18.7%, which is better than the 18.3% rate he had in his rookie year. But he is also seeing fewer hard fastballs in 2021. Bellinger is 1-for-30 with no XBH against pitches over 95 mph.
In fact, Bellinger’s air pull rate is the highest mark ever recorded by a player with at least 10 batted balls this season. His slugging percentage on air pulls is 1.665.
Bellinger’s total run value is down, but he is seeing fewer hard fastballs in 2021. The total run value penalizes hitters for making an out and credits hitters for taking a ball. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s worth looking at.
Bellinger’s chase rate is also up. He’s seen a 29.1 percent chase rate, which is 5.4 points above the league average. This is also the best mark in baseball for a hitter with at least 10 batted balls this season.
Bellinger’s triple-slash line is 156 percent better than the league average. He’s been better against soft grounders and weak grounders, and his strikeout rate has also improved. He’s also been better at hitting breaking pitches. In fact, he’s swung at one in three outside the strike zone in the playoffs.
Those are all good things, but he hasn’t done much quietly on a baseball diamond. Bellinger has also been a bit inconsistent at the plate. He’s seen a huge drop in home run rates in his sophomore and fourth seasons, as well as an uptick in strikeouts this season. He’s also had two trips to the DL this season.
His defense has regressed to make him expendable
Unless you’re a Dodgers fan, you might have heard that Cody Bellinger has struggled offensively for the past three seasons. While his offensive numbers have regressed, Bellinger remains an elite center fielder, and he remains a fan favorite in Los Angeles. Despite his decline, Bellinger has a solid shot to rebound offensively in his next contract.
While Bellinger will remain with the Dodgers on a free agent contract after the 2019 season, it would be surprising if the team didn’t try to re-sign Bellinger. The Dodgers have deep financial resources, but paying a player like Bellinger can be difficult.
Bellinger is coming off a season in which he hit 19 home runs and recorded the second-most outs above average among center fielders. But that performance wasn’t enough to reverse his decline, and Bellinger went down with a broken fibula in April. The Dodgers also benched Bellinger against left-handed pitchers in September.
Bellinger is a two-time All-Star and NL Rookie of the Year. He has been a solid defender at center field, earning a Gold Glove and leading the NL in fWAR. He’s also won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2017. However, his offensive woes began to take shape during the 2020 season. His batting average dropped to.289, and his OPS fell to 299 in the next two seasons.
Bellinger’s offensive regression has put him at an expendable level, and the Dodgers have taken steps to cut his salary. Bellinger was expected to make $18 million in arbitration this year, but the Dodgers did not tender his contract. The team instead went after other arbitration-eligible players, such as infielders Edwin Rios and Luke Williams. They also did not tender contracts to outfielder Justin Turner and pitcher Andrew Heaney.
The Dodgers also have a number of internal candidates for Bellinger’s position. Among them are Trayce Thompson, James Outman, and Chris Taylor. Despite the fact that they’re not quite as elite as Bellinger, they are all able to provide left-handed power bats in the middle of the order.
If the Dodgers can’t re-sign Bellinger, the Red Sox could pursue a deal. However, the Red Sox are unlikely to give up much in a trade to acquire Bellinger.