The news isn’t official yet, but Los Angeles Dodgers fans are that much closer to a reality in which Cody Bellinger is no longer a member of this team. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Dodgers plan to non-tender the struggling outfielder, which would make him a free agent.
While Rosenthal also noted that decision doesn’t necessarily signal a divorce because the two sides could work out a deal that featured a lower salary for the 2023 season (he was originally due over $18 million), it’s unclear why that would be the path for the Dodgers when Bellinger is certainly not in the team’s long-term plans after his last two seasons.
In fact, shortly after Rosenthal’s report dropped, Bob Nightengale of USA Today revealed the Dodgers had reportedly expressed interest in former Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who had his team option declined by Tampa Bay earlier this offseason.
That would be the kind of corresponding move the Dodgers were to make if they wanted to go with a cheaper option, right? It’s also unclear how open Bellinger would be to taking a drastic pay cut, whereas someone like Kiermaier is at mercy of the market and might be inclined to join a contender in his latter years.
There’s also the possibility the Dodgers blow up the offseason and replace Bellinger with the top available free agent.
Dodgers to reportedly non-tender Cody Bellinger. Aaron Judge to Los Angeles?
Earlier this offseason, it was reported the Dodgers had talked about bringing in Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and moving right fielder Mookie Betts to second base. Perhaps that’s still on the table with or without Bellinger in the picture.
But if Bellinger goes, what about just plopping Judge in center field for a couple of seasons before shifting him back over to right as he approaches his mid-30s? Either way, both options could be on the table because the Dodgers have an issue at the moment with their infield and outfield depth.
However, Judge, at this point, feels destined to remain a Yankee, if we’re to draw conclusions from what Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman have said over the last week. New York is prepared to pay Judge his asking price (or, at least out-bid any other suitors out there) and then add more talent around him with hopes of becoming a true World Series contender in 2023 and beyond after years and years of falling short.
Conversely, it’s very realistic Bellinger ends up a Yankee with New York’s outfield situation. There’s a vacancy in left field and Harrison Bader, who currently occupies center field, is a free agent after 2023. Bellinger can take over in left (though he’s only played 40 career games there) if Judge returns, or he can take over in right if Judge leaves.
That’s enough speculating for now, though. The Dodgers are set to cut loose a former Rookie of the Year (2017) and NL MVP (2019) and free up $18 million on their payroll, making them even more financially flexible for a promising class of free agents.
Dodgers fans will be sad to see Bellinger go, but his situation has arguably reached the point of no return. If he’s not going to be in LA beyond 2023, the Dodgers have no reason to wait around to see what happens in 2023 and pay him one of the highest salaries among active outfielders.