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Cody Bellinger, Dodgers avoid salary arbitration, per report

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1 year, $17 million for 2022

NLCS: LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

No transactions are allowed for players on 40-man rosters nor for major league free agents during the MLB lockout, but apparently Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers agreed to a contract for 2022 before the collective bargaining agreement expired on December 1.

Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel at ESPN reported that Bellinger and the Dodgers agreed to a one-year, $17 million contract, which avoided what would have been one of the most interesting salary arbitration cases in recent memory. Local beat writers Fabian Ardaya at The Athletic and Jack Harris at the Los Angeles Times both confirmed Bellinger’s agreement as well.

Presumably this deal will be announced once the lockout is over, but that’s not expected until 2022. At the very least, getting a Bellinger deal out of the way leaves the Dodgers with one fewer item on the offseason checklist once business resumes. Los Angeles has three more players eligible for arbitration — shortstop Trea Turner, and pitchers Julio Urías and Caleb Ferguson.

Bellinger made $16.1 million in 2021, but in a season mired by injuries and slumps hit just .165/.240/.302 with 10 home runs and a 48 wRC+ in 95 games, one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Bellinger had one of the worst seasons ever so soon after winning an MVP award, which he earned in 2019.

Excellent defense in center field, combined with an improved postseason at the plate likely helped avoid the once-unthinkable possibility of not getting tendered a contract by the November 30 deadline, which would have made Bellinger a free agent. Perhaps that threat, either perceived or real, helped Bellinger and the Dodgers reach an agreement.

Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors in October projected Bellinger to earn $16.1 million in 2022, matching his salary last year.

Bellinger was a Super Two in 2020, among the top 22 percent of players with at least two years but not yet three years of major league service time, which earned him four years of salary arbitration instead of the usual three. With four years, 160 days of service time, Bellinger will still have one more year of arbitration in 2023 before qualifying for free agency.

This reported contract also gives us a chance to revisit a comparison of players to win MVP before reaching Super Two status. Here’s how Ryan Howard and Kris Bryant fared in their four arbitration years.

Super Twos with an MVP already under their belt

Player Years Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3 Arb 4 First 3 arb Total arb years
Player Years Arb 1 Arb 2 Arb 3 Arb 4 First 3 arb Total arb years
Ryan Howard 2008-11 $10m $15m $19m $20m $44m $64m
Kris Bryant 2018-21 $10.85m $12.9m $18.6m $19.5m $42.35m $61.85m
Cody Bellinger 2020-23 $11.5m $16.1m $17m $44.6m TBD
Howard signed a three-year contract for his final three arb years, while Bryant went year to year.

With Bellinger now reportedly taken care of, the Dodgers have 14 players under contract for 2022. Adding in projected salaries for the three players eligible for salary arbitration, plus some rough assumptions for player benefits and minor league salaries, the Dodgers have an estimated payroll of $227.4 million for competitive balance tax purposes next year.

The Dodgers for 2021 were charged with a $32.65 million competitive balance tax on a payroll of $285.6 million, their second-highest in franchise history.