Dodgers bitender Bellinger, but could bring him back

In a move that would have been unthinkable just two seasons ago, the Dodgers decided to non-bid outfielder Cody Bellinger before the Friday deadline. The move made Bellinger, the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player, a free agent for the first time in his life. “Obviously, it’s been a unique path for Cody as he has worked diligently to battle injuries and return to an All-Star level of performance over the past few years,” said Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. “However, we had to make the difficult decision of not bidding because the results did not turn out as well as we hoped or expected.” Bellinger was slated to earn more than $20 million over the past season to qualify for a salary adjustment. Given Bellinger’s subpar production at the plate over the past two seasons, it’s a figure the Dodgers aren’t comfortable paying, even if they believe Bellinger could be back next season. The move doesn’t necessarily end Bellinger’s time in Los Angeles. The Dodgers will try to bring him back at a lower price, but it will be a tough job. The middle class is expected to have many suitors. Friedman said the Dodgers had sought to trade Bellinger before the non-bid deadline, but talks did not materialize. Now that Bellinger is a free agent and can sign for less, the Rays, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Cubs and Marlins are among the long list of teams that will be interested in his services. “I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the end of the chapter for Cody and the Dodgers,” said Friedman. “We still believe very much in Cody’s talent and his competitive composition and are interested in reuniting and will continue to communicate with Cody and his group. There will be a large pool of suitors that Bellinger anticipates as he is likely to capitalize on what once made him one of the best players in MLB. Bellinger hit 39 home runs in 2017 and took home the NL Rookie. This year’s award. In ’19, he hit 47 home runs and gave Christian Yelich his first MVP award. It became something the Dodgers and Bellinger expected, but they couldn’t recreate it. Bellinger suffered a shoulder injury while celebrating a home run in Game 7 of the NLCS. He underwent offseason surgery, which kept him out of spring training for several weeks. In the first week of the ’21 season, Bellinger played for the A’s. Dealing with injuries, Bellinger was never able to get to the plate. He ended the year with 10 home runs and a .542 OPS, worst in the majors among qualified hitters. Bellinger entered spring training this year. Ed Strength excited about his addition. But the results didn’t work, and he posted a .654 OPS in 144 games. Because of this lack of production, the Dodgers benched Bellinger against the Padres in Game 4 of the NLDS, even getting right-hander Joe Musgrove on the mound. “I thought I had a lot of confidence last offseason. [about a bounce-back season], and that was unproven in ’22,” Friedman said of Bellinger. “Very little is known about what we do. … We still truly believe in Cody’s talent and feel like he’s more committed than ever to figuring it out. “With the talent in our weight room and on our coaching staff, we feel like we can figure it out with him. But back in ’22, I felt that way. I feel that way again towards 23.” Bellinger is 27 and still plays elite defense in center field. His insistence on offering him a contract focused on giving him one last chance to figure things out in Los Angeles. However, his price tag has become too heavy at this point in the offseason as the Dodgers need to upgrade other positions, primarily their starting pitching staff. With Bellinger off the roster, the Dodgers will play Trace Thompson and Chris Taylor in center field. James Outman is also an option. The Dodgers will also look to free agent outfielders like Kevin Kiermaier, whom Friedman was drafted by the Rays in 2010. Los Angeles has cut nearly $100 million in payroll since free agency began, but will likely enter the ’23 season with a lower payroll than it has in the past two years. The Dodgers also did not acquire infielder Luke Williams, who claimed waivers from the Marlins last week, and Edwin Rios, an infielder who hit seven home runs in 27 games with the Dodgers last season.

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