Strategic silence: Unraveling the Yankees’ approach to Cody Bellinger

Free agent Cody Bellinger is a target for the Yankees in 2023 offseason.

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In the midst of a busy offseason, the New York Yankees strategically fortified their outfield for the upcoming 2024 season, orchestrating significant upgrades. The transformative journey commenced with the unexpected acquisition of Alex Verdugo from the Boston Red Sox, a trade that incurred relatively minimal costs for the Yankees. Subsequently, the Bronx Bombers engaged in a blockbuster deal with the San Diego Padres, relinquishing four pitchers and catcher Kyle Higashioka to secure the services of left-handed hitting outfielders Juan Soto and Trent Grisham. The trio of outfield additions, all southpaw swingers, strategically aligns with the dimensions of Yankee Stadium’s right field “Short Porch.”

Yankees pass on Bellinger amidst roster overhaul

Cody Bellinger latest subject of Toronto social-media rumors - Chicago Sun-Times

Surprisingly absent from the Yankees’ roster overhaul was interest in free agent outfielder Cody Bellinger, a player many anticipated would be a prime target for the Bronx Bombers. However, YES Network analyst Jack Curry dispelled such speculations, revealing on Yankees Hot Stove that the Yankees “were never really in on Bellinger.”

This revelation may raise eyebrows, given Bellinger’s left-handed hitting prowess and the potential advantages his power could derive from the dimensions of Yankee Stadium. Furthermore, Bellinger’s defensive versatility, highlighted by his Gold Glove-winning skills as a center fielder and ability to play first base, adds an extra layer of appeal. Despite these attributes, the Yankees harbored reservations about pursuing Bellinger for various reasons.

Well before Curry’s disclosure, reports had circulated about the Yankees’ concerns regarding Bellinger’s hard-hit metrics. A scrutiny of Baseball Savant statistics revealed Bellinger’s below-average standing in metrics such as average exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard-hit percentage, ranking in the 22nd, 27th, and 10th percentiles, respectively. While Bellinger delivered an impressive slash line of .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs and a 134 wRC+, these metrics fueled the Yankees’ apprehension, suggesting a potential regression in his performance.

Bellinger’s track record presents a paradox of immense upside and inconsistency. Having claimed the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2017 and the NL MVP Award in 2019 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he experienced a resurgence in the 2023 season with the Chicago Cubs. However, subsequent struggles in 2021 and 2022 led the Dodgers to non-tender him. Although he showcased glimpses of his potential during his tenure with the Cubs, the Yankees are wary of committing to a long-term deal exceeding $150 million, fearing that Bellinger’s resurgence may not be sustainable and could result in a burdensome contract.

As the most sought-after outfielder in the current free agent market, Bellinger has garnered interest from other contenders, with the San Francisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays emerging as leading candidates. The Yankees, once seen as an ideal fit for the 28-year-old outfielder, have opted out of the race for his services. Citing concerns over Bellinger’s inconsistent production and the specter of past regrettable contracts, notably the Jacoby Ellsbury deal, the Yankees are exercising caution in navigating the competitive landscape of free agency.

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