The Los Angeles Dodgers already rejected Justin Turner’s team option for the 2023 season, putting themselves in danger of losing an integral part of their cultural fabric. Will they risk that again with one of their fallen stars?
Cody Bellinger is entering his third and final year of arbitration eligibility. Last offseason, following one of the worst statistical campaigns in the entire sport, the Dodgers and Bellinger agreed to avoid arbitration with the same salary he made in 2021. It was evident both parties understood the circumstances.
But after another well below-average showing this past year, it really feels like Bellinger is lost. Here are his last three seasons, side by side:
- 2020 – .239 AVG, .789 OPS, 112 OPS+, 33 runs scored, 12 HR, 30 RBI, 42 K in 56 games
- 2021 – .165 AVG, .542 OPS, 44 OPS+, 39 runs scored, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 94 K in 95 games
- 2022 – .210 AVG, .654 OPS, 78 OPS+, 70 runs scored, 19 HR, 68 RBI, 150 K in 144 games
His defense in center field remains elite, but at this point Bellinger can’t be a top-three (or even top-five) paid CF option from an AAV standpoint (he was No. 4 in 2022 behind Mike Trout, George Springer and Aaron Judge).
Fans have wondered if the Dodgers might non-tender Belli and move on. After all, he has only one year of club control left and it’s not cost-effective. He doesn’t figure to be in the long-term plans after his last 295 games. However, it seems as if the team won’t be giving up that easily.
Are the Dodgers going to keep Cody Bellinger for the 2023 season?
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman spoke to MLB Network during the GM Meetings in Las Vegas and his rhetoric sure sounded like the former Rookie of the Year and MVP will be back for the 2023 season.
But under what circumstances? Will they pay him in the $17-$20 million range? Will they non-tender him and then bring him back at a cheaper price? The Dodgers have the bandwidth to pay him, but is it a prudent use of funds when they need to get revenge for their lost 111-win season?
There’s another defense-first option right there for the taking, who will be millions cheaper and is a former draft pick of Friedman during the executive’s time with Rays. Tampa Bay just declined center fielder Kevin Kiermaier’s option. He’ll probably cost half as much as Bellinger and, at this point, be more effective overall on both sides of the ball.
But there’s a longstanding relationship between the Dodgers and Bellinger, which makes this all the more difficult. Maybe that’s a considerable factor here. Most fans would agree, though, that paying him that much money with greater needs all across the roster is irresponsible if you’re just trying to sustain a bond that’s been in place since 2013.