The Dodgers on Friday did not tender a contract to centerfielder Cody Bellinger, making the former Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year a free agent.
Friday was the deadline for teams to tender contracts for players under reserve on the 40-man roster. Bellinger was one of a dozen Dodgers eligible for salary arbitration this winter. Now, he’s on the open market.
At issue with Bellinger was his cost relative to production after two subpar seasons. Recovering from shoulder surgery and suffering a broken leg in 2021, Bellinger had the worst year of his career, hitting just .165/.240/.302. He followed that up with a relatively healthy season, but hit just .210/.265/.389 in 2022.
“I still very much believe in the true talent and ability, and I’ve watched how hard he has worked and how much he cares,” Andrew Friedman said in a November 9 interview on MLB Network. “Obviously last year was disappointing, he’d be the first to say that, and that there’s a lot more in there. It’s incumbent upon him, us, everyone to figure out how to do that. From a talent and work ethic standpoint, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to.”
On a Zoom call Friday night, Friedman said, “It hasn’t played out as we all would have hoped or expected, and therefore we had to make a difficult decision of non-tendering.”
Asked if he still thought Bellinger could turn things around offensively, Friedman said, “Last offseason, I was very confident and it didn’t prove out in ‘22. I remain confident.”
Bellinger made $17 million last season, and MLB Trade Rumors in its arbitration projections estimated his 2023 salary to be $18.1 million. With five years, 160 days of major league service time, Bellinger would have been a free agent after the 2023 season.
Even with those two down seasons, Bellinger’s time with the Dodgers was an overwhelming success. He set a National League rookie home run record in 2017 en route to winning Rookie of the Year unanimously. Bellinger had a career-year two seasons later, hitting 47 home runs to become just the sixth Los Angeles Dodger to win MVP.
Bellinger in six seasons with Los Angeles hit .248/.332/.487 with a 116 wRC+, making two All-Star teams. His 152 home runs are 16th-most in franchise history, and rank 21st in the majors during that time.
He hit for the cycle, just the third LA Dodger to do so. Bellinger won 2018 NLCS MVP, hit the pennant-winning home run in Game 7 of the NLCS in 2020, and his RBI single in the ninth inning in San Francisco eliminated the Giants in Game 5 of the 2021 NLDS.
It’s certainly possible the Dodgers could retain Bellinger on a lesser contract, but they will have to compete with the open market to do so now.
Without Bellinger, the Dodgers at the moment have seven outfielders on the 40-man roster, led by Mookie Betts, Trayce Thompson, and Chris Taylor. Miguel Vargas and James Outman have limited major league experience, while minor leaguers Andy Pages and Jonny DeLuca were just added to the roster on Tuesday.
“We’ll figure it out,” Friedman said of his outfield plans Friday. “We have a mix of talent and experience we’ll look to, but also we’ve got a long time between now and spring training, and [outfield] will be one of our focuses.”
Edwin Ríos and Luke Williams were also non-tendered. You can read more on them here.
In total, the Dodgers now have 35 players on the 40-man roster.