Dodgers non-tender Cody Bellinger, make former MVP a free agent

los angeles odgers is non-tender pre MVP cody bellingermade the 27-year-old two-time All-Star a free agent.

Bellinger was set to earn approximately $18 million in arbitration. The Dodgers could still bring him back, and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman expressed interest in returning, but now he would have to compete with the rest of the league.

Getting to this point is a surprising development for the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP, whose last few years in Los Angeles have gone in the wrong direction.

“Obviously, it’s been a unique path for Cody as he’s battled injuries and worked diligently over the last few years to return to his All-Star caliber performance,” Friedman said Friday. “However, it did not happen as we all hoped or expected, and so we had to make the difficult decision not to tender him.”

Four seasons ago at age 23, Bellinger launched 47 home runs with a 1.035 OPS. He earned his second All-Star nod and first career Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in an MVP season. While his performance fluctuated during the early part of his career, it never dipped below league average. He mashed at least 25 homers with an OPS+ of 120+ or ​​better in his first three years in the majors and appeared to be a key young superstar in the game.

Then came the 2020 season.

Bellinger looked like himself early that spring, slugging .324/.343/.588 during Cactus League play before the pandemic delayed the season. Upon restarting, he could not replicate his normal form. He began swinging and chasing more often, and the frequent change of his mechanics hindered any rhythm, though he still posted 112 OPS+ while offering above-average defense at first base and the outfield.

He also played a key role in helping the Dodgers to their first World Series Championship in 32 years.

Bellinger hit four home runs during the 2020 post season, one of which was the decisive blast in the Dodgers’ National League Championship Series game 7 comeback win against the Dodgers. Braves, After rounding the bases, Bellinger celebrated with his teammates. A forearm hit with Kike Hernandez was a bit aggressive, causing Bellinger to dislocate his right shoulder. It was not the first time Bellinger had experienced discomfort with his non-throwing shoulder, although he had never before missed significant time due to the issue. He played in all 162 games in 2018, 156 games in 2019 and 56 of 60 games in 2020.

Following the latest shoulder problem, he decided to undergo arthroscopic surgery in November 2020. He was ahead of schedule in his recovery, but as he regained strength in his shoulder, another setback ensued. Four games into the year, Bellinger was back on the shelf after suffering a hairline fracture in his foot. He later dealt with hamstring and rib injuries and finished the 2021 season with a .165/.240/.302 slash line in 95 games.

As Bellinger previously said, “You learn a little bit about yourself.” “You really, really know how hard this sport is, never to achieve anything.”

His slugging percentage shot up, his strikeout rate worsened, and his mechanics were in flux. Bellinger’s .542 OPS that season was the third lowest among all major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances, but the Dodgers kept their faith in the indefatigable slugger, and they rewarded him in the postseason. In an effort to make more contact and capture velocity, Bellinger widened his stance, lowered his hands, flattened the path of his bat, and simplified his swing.

“He was really trying to put a bat on the ball,” hitting coach Brant Brown said last October. “It’s something we talk about all year long.”

If Bellinger can do that, ideally, his prowess will follow.

A more compact swing helped provide the game-winning hit to Bellinger in Game 5 of the 2021 NL Division Series. In the next series, an NLCS rematch against the Braves, Bellinger pitched to the Dodgers. With his team down 2–0 in the series, Bellinger caught a 96-mph fastball—something he had not been able to do all year—and struck out luke jackson out for a game-tying three-run home run in the 6–5 victory.

The Dodgers could not rebound with another 3–1 series against the Braves, but Bellinger’s standout postseason (.353/.436/.471) gave him a chance to potentially recapture his MVP form for the 2022 season. provided a promising launching point. Friedman expected this to happen.

But a more unusual lineage followed and Bellinger’s struggles remained.

This time, the lockdown prevented the players from working with the teams. Upon his return, Bellinger said he planned to keep the same attitude and approach that helped him succeed in the 2021 postseason. But those changes were made largely to adjust to an injury-plagued campaign and were not permanent.

“I don’t think you ever figure it out in baseball, you know what I mean?” Bellinger said. “It’s always a game of adjustment.”

Feeling healthy in 2022, the sparring continued. He could not get back on track.

The Dodgers continued to encourage him to try to get to the other side. The goal was to find a consistent routine and process, but also a look at what his swing looks like, what feels comfortable to him, and what has made him successful.

“He’s his own person,” Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Skoyk said ahead of the 2022 season. “If he comes up with an idea, he has a right to try. It’s his swing, his career, and we have to be there to help and support him, even if we don’t necessarily think it’s the right thing.” It is. In that moment.”

Added Brown: “He’s really trying to navigate what his feelings are. Sometimes, we all know what hitters believe will betray them.”

Bellinger finished the 2022 season at a lackluster .210/.265/.389 with 19 home runs, while posting the lowest walk rate and highest strikeout rate and slugging percentage of his career. Over the last three years, he is tied for the lowest wRC+ (78) among all major leaguers with at least 1,100 plate appearances.

His teammates applaud him for working through his issues without complaining or making excuses.

“I think about that boy more than anything,” clayton kershaw said in April. “We all love Bailey. We all watch her grind it out every day, good or bad, to try to figure it out. Coming out of shoulder surgery and all that stuff, it’s a challenge for anybody He grinds completely, he didn’t say anything about it.”

There were glimpses of the player the Dodgers had envisioned. He hit two homers in a 10–2 win against the Padres on April 24, one of seven multi-hit games in his first 15 games of the 2022 season. But despite a clean bill of health, anomalies marred his performance.

The low point came in Game 4 of the NLDS. With the Dodgers’ season nearing completion, Bellinger, who earned $17 million this year, was left out of the starting lineup in favor of Trayce Thompson against right-handed starter Joe Musgrove.

“He was upset,” said manager Dave Roberts. “He wanted to be there. He expected to be there.”

The Dodgers’ season ended with a 5–3 loss, leaving the former MVP’s future bleak.

The Dodgers’ season ended with a 5–3 loss, leaving the future bleak for the former MVP, who was projected to make a little over $18 million this year had the Dodgers given him a contract.

“It’s tough,” said Roberts before the final loss of the season. “There’s no exact science to it. I think I’ve shown I’ve supported him. I’ve given him a lot because he’s earned it, and I also believe in the player, the talent, the person.”

Ultimately, the cost exceeded that belief, although the Dodgers have not ruled out a return for Bellinger at a lower salary than the $18 million he is set to earn next year. Friedman mentioned Thompson, James Outman and Chris Taylor as possible options in center field if the Dodgers were to fill the position internally.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the closing of the chapter for Cody and the Dodgers,” Friedman said. “We still have a lot of faith in Cody’s talent and his competitive makeup, and we are interested in a reunion and will continue to negotiate with Cody and his group.”

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