Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger became a free agent sooner than anyone expected when he won the 2019 NL MVP award.
The Dodgers announced Friday that they did not put Bellinger up for auction, opting to let him go free rather than pay him an arbitration salary, which is projected to be around $18 million. Infielder Edwin Rios and recent waiver Luke Williams also did not bid.
Bellinger was on a free agency track after being hired by the Dodgers in the 2023 season.
The door is left open for Bellinger to return to the Dodgers; the team was simply unwilling to pay the price necessary to guarantee his return.
Cody Bellinger moves from NL MVP to non-bidder
The decision cements one of baseball’s strangest downfalls in recent years, even as the Dodgers went on to hit 100 winning seasons while playing center field.
Bellinger looked like one of MLB’s next big stars as he took home the MVP award after a season in which he hit .305/.406/.629 with 47 homers while playing above average right field. What happened next was painful: a relatively bad year in 2020, then two seasons with a 0.193/0.256/0.355 aggregate line and a 27.1% strikeout rate compared to 16.3% in 2019.
Much of that struggle could be due to a dislocated right shoulder that Bellinger suffered while celebrating a homer win in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. The long pass was arguably Bellinger’s finest moment as a Dodger, but you can see something clearly wrong with his shoulder after he enthusiastically high fived his teammates.
This shoulder was a constant problem for Bellinger, but NLCS dislocation ultimately required him to undergo surgery after the 2020 season.. Since then, he has not looked directly at the plate.
That’s not to say that Bellinger was unplayable for the Dodgers, as he has shown significant defensive value as a well-above-average center fielder in recent years, not to mention his positive presence at the Los Angeles club. His 2021 season was dismal, but he still managed to post 1.2 bWAR this season. A center fielder who plays with gloves and is barely passable at the plate is not what the Dodgers hoped for after 2019, and probably not worth $18 million, but this is a player that teams are still signing.
Bellinger, who is only 27 years old, expects to see a decent market for teams with a hole in midfield and hopes he can find some of his old magic as a striker. There are worse lottery tickets out there.