Cody Bellinger was recently non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but is he a free agent the Pittsburgh Pirates should pursue?
The Los Angeles Dodgers made headlining news at the non-tender deadline, non-tendering former MVP outfielder Cody Bellinger. Bellinger was projected to make $18 million in arbitration this winter, and that’s a massive overpay even the Dodgers can’t afford to take on, especially given how Bellinger performed the last few seasons. While Bellinger might fit almost every single team, should the Pittsburgh Pirates consider pursuing him?
The last two years have been very poor for Bellinger. In 900 plate appearances, he’s batted just .193/.259/.355 with a .266 wOBA and 69 wRC+. While Bellinger has been hurt, that’s no excuse for a 47 wRC+ in 2021, and considering he was mostly healthy for 2022, it’s not a surprise that the Dodgers non-tendered him.
Last season, he still hit for power and ran quite a bit. He crushed 19 home runs with 14 stolen bases. On top of that, he was still a decent defender with +6 Outs Above Average. Even better was these six OAA all came in center field. But with a .654 OPS, .284 wOBA, and 83 wRC+, he produced more like a backup outfielder than one you trot out there daily.
Nobody is expecting Bellinger to hit as he did in 2019. That was the peak juiced ball era when guys like Eduardo Escobar, Trey Mancini, and Max Kepler were contending for 40 home runs. But asking him to hit as he did in 2020 isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.
During the shortened campaign, he batted .239/.333/.455 with a .337 wOBA and 117 wRC+. Granted, those aren’t Earth shattering numbers, but he was still a quality hitter in the small sample size. Given Bellinger’s value on the base paths and in the field, he doesn’t need to be an MVP-caliber hitter to be valuable. A 110-120 wRC+ suffices. Heck, if he were a 100-105 wRC+ batter, he’d still provide plus value.
But still, we’re talking about a guy who is fresh off a season where he had an 83 wRC+ and 84 wRC+ in the second half. It’s not as if Bellinger was killed by the shift, either. Sure, he had a .302 wOBA when the shift was on vs. a .283 wOBA when opponents moved to different positions, but that’s only the difference between Bellinger and Ben Gamel.
The Pittsburgh Pirates can’t keep giving guys like Bellinger a chance at this point in a rebuild. Bellinger is coming off a season where he had a sub-85 wRC+. At that point, you might as well just let Travis Swaggerty take a shot. Heck, even Jared Oliva would likely be able to replicate what Bellinger did in 2022.
With Swaggerty, along with Canaan Smith-Njigba, Jared Triolo, and Ji-Hwan Bae on hand as other outfield options, the Pittsburgh Pirates should pass on Bellinger on anything beyond a non-guaranteed deal or extremely low-cost one-year deal where he is willing to take on a bench role.