Dodgers: What does Cody Bellinger’s demotion mean for his future in LA?

Thomas Carannante
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 29: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on August 29, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 29: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on August 29, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /
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The Los Angeles Dodgers are leading the NL West for the first time since April 25.

They swept the Atlanta Braves while the San Francisco Giants dropped three straight to the Milwaukee Brewers.

LA has been scratching and clawing in an attempt to get back to the top, but on so many occasions couldn’t take advantage of prime situations … or the Giants simply kept winning when we didn’t think it was possible.

Now, it’s finally happened and the good vibes are soaring … but not for everyone.

Cody Bellinger was hit with some tough news as the Dodgers were ascending to become the first team in MLB to 85 wins.

A few days ago, manager Dave Roberts said Bellinger will not be starting games against lefty pitchers now that the lineup is fully healthy.

So … what’s next for Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger after his demotion?

That’s what we call a demotion, and it has to be difficult for the former Rookie of the Year and NL MVP to deal with when you realize all he’s gone through over the past year.

A dislocated shoulder had him rehabbing for the entire offseason. Then a lower leg fracture put him on the shelf for another couple months. And after that, he’s failed to find any semblance of a rhythm.

In 75 games, he’s hitting .175 with a .563 OPS, 53 OPS+ and 56 wRC+. He has a negative WAR. It’s really been awful, and it’s unfortunate a stacked lineup around him hasn’t been able to help. But at some point Roberts had to make the decision to scale back his contributions because there’s no possible way AJ Pollock can lose playing time with the way he’s hitting at the moment.

Throw in the return of Mookie Betts, the addition of Trea Turner at the trade deadline, and Chris Taylor surging ahead with a possible career campaign, and Roberts’ hands are tied. It was the best course of action without completely benching Bellinger and killing his confidence.

Even more concerning, however, is what this means for Bellinger’s future in Los Angeles. Stars always go through slumps at some point in their careers, but Bellinger is in his prime and has been noticeably bad for the last two seasons. He still has two years of arbitration remaining, too.

As a Super Two player, Bellinger set an MLB record last year when his salary was the highest of any first-year arbitration-eligible player ever. Now, his last 131 games after his MVP season have mostly been dreadful (though his defense has held up, thankfully) and he’s making $16.1 million in 2021.

At this point, the Dodgers probably aren’t going to trade him, if that’s what you were thinking. Parting with him at his lowest possible value with increasing arbitration salaries on the way won’t net them any sort of worthwhile return in a deal. And he still provides a lot of value with his defensive versatility.

But after arbitration? Will the Dodgers give him a new contract? Or if this continues in 2022, is it crazy to think the Dodgers wouldn’t tender him a contract for the 2023 season? With so many financial commitments on the horizon and a likely battle with Trevor Bauer’s contract/impending suspension, it’s really hard to tell.

A lot of things can change between now and 2023, but it’s worth pondering at this moment since it appears there’s no end in sight for the former fourth-round pick.

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