Cody Bellinger stands out as the most enigmatic free agent in 2023

Free agent Cody Bellinger is a favorite to sign with the Yankees in the 2023 offseason.
Michael Bennington
Thursday November 23, 2023

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Even in his comeback season, Cody Bellinger‘s performance left observers puzzled, as he excelled in a markedly different manner than before. The player who smashed 47 home runs in 2019 and the one who struggled with a .165 batting average in 2021 seem like different extremes.

When it was anticipated that Cody Bellinger would rise further into the league’s elite players, he faced a decline. Just when expectations suggested a continued downturn, especially after one of the best talent-developing teams moved on from him, he made a comeback.

There are both exclamations and questions if Cody Bellinger is a more contact-oriented, reliable, though not necessarily spectacular, contributor, as seen in his recent resurgence. It is time for the Yankees, the most notable name in his pursuit, to crack this.


Cody Bellinger’s puzzling career

The 28-year-old outfielder stands out as one of the most enigmatic high-value players in the current open market. Throughout his career, Cody Bellinger has experienced extremes, oscillating between being one of the game’s best and worst hitters.

From his impressive Rookie of the Year performance in 2017 to the 2019 season, Cody Bellinger ranked sixth in MLB for home runs (111) and posted the 11th-best OPS (.928). During this period, he also secured a Gold Glove while playing for the Dodgers.

In 2020, he performed decently in the abbreviated season but made a significant impact with a tie-breaking home run in Game 7 of the NLCS—unfortunately, he injured his right shoulder while celebrating. Following his World Series victory, Cody Bellinger underwent surgery on his shoulder, and since then, he hasn’t seemed to regain his previous form.

Throughout the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Cody Bellinger struggled at the plate, ranking last in OPS (.611) among 161 hitters with a minimum of 850 plate appearances.

Despite the Dodgers’ reputation for optimizing talent, they chose not to retain the former MVP. The Cubs took a chance on his potential with a $17.5 million investment, which proved successful. Cody Bellinger showcased solid defensive skills in center and at first base, achieving an .881 OPS while batting .307 with 26 home runs. His performance nearly propelled Chicago to the playoffs, significantly boosting his market value.

Agent Scott Boras has consistently asserted that Cody Bellinger’s resurgence signals his restored health after the 2020 surgery. However, his comeback raised concerns as it differed from his initial rise to stardom.

His career witnessed the lowest average exit velocity at 87.9 mph. While Cody Bellinger boasted a .307 batting average, the quality of contact suggested an expected batting average of .270.

The 37-point variance ranked as the 10th-highest across baseball, prompting speculation that some of his impressive numbers might have been influenced by luck. Alternatively, Cody Bellinger’s stellar statistics could reflect his adaptability as an intelligent hitter evolving with the changes in the game.

Fly balls weren’t transitioning into home runs as frequently as in 2018 and 2019, diminishing the incentive to swing for the fences.

During his peak with the Los Angeles team, Cody Bellinger was prone to strikeouts. However, with the Cubs, he achieved a career-best strikeout rate (15.6 percent, ranking 20th-best in baseball) and transformed his approach by making more contact, distributing hits across the field, and utilizing his speed. Notably, his performance with two strikes saw a significant improvement.

Can he follow his Yankees lineage?

A 28-year-old left-handed hitter, possessing power, enhanced contact rates, and the baseball lineage of Cody Bellinger (including a direct link to former Yankees utility man Clay Bellinger), could be an ideal addition for the Yankees—a team that ranked sixth-lowest in runs scored in the previous season.

Yankees Jasson Dominguez is at MetLife Stadium for an NFL game on Oct 2, 2023.

Cody Bellinger could effectively cover center field until Jasson Dominguez returns, and in 2025, he could transition to first base, coinciding with the conclusion of Anthony Rizzo‘s contract.

However, for a team wary of extended contracts and the risks associated with megadeals, the uncertainty surrounding Bellinger’s bat presents a significant concern. Previous seasons have demonstrated that his offensive production is far from guaranteed.

A team already grappling with the repercussions of extended contracts gone wrong, notably, Giancarlo Stanton‘s, would face considerable adversity if an investment of around $200 million in Bellinger doesn’t yield the expected results.

Nevertheless, the Yankees must secure another outfielder to fill Dominguez’s absence.

Giancarlo Stanton, player of the New York Yankees

If Cody Bellinger is not the chosen option, the top center fielders available include Kevin Kiermaier and Harrison Bader. Both are renowned for their defensive skills, although concerns linger about their offensive capabilities and durability.

Cody Bellinger remains an enigma, and the Yankees, like other interested bidders, are eager to uncover who he truly is.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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