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Why Red Sox shouldn’t pursue former MVP Cody Bellinger in free agency

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Tomase: Cody Bellinger risk not worth potential Red Sox reward originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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In another offseason, the Red Sox could justify their presence with Cody Bellinger. How often do 27-year-old former MVPs with five instruments enter the market absolutely free? Take a flyer, hope he turns into another David Ortiz.

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However, this winter, Bellinger is exactly the type of player the Red Sox should carefully avoid – ineffective, flawed, potentially broken. Let someone else fix it. The Red Sox have too many holes to take on another reclamation project.

This is just talk because the Dodgers made the sensible, yet still shocking, decision not to offer Bellinger a contract in the final year of his arbitration. Bellinger would probably have made about $18 million according to MLB trade rumorsbut this number became untenable because he produced what can only be described as a staggering fall from grace.

Bellinger won the 2017 Rookie of the Year award and went on to become the 2019 MVP with 47 homers to win the Golden Glove. We had every reason to believe that he launched his Hall of Fame career by joining Mookie Betts to form one of the most powerful, dynamic, athletic 1-2s in the game.

Then the wheels fell off along with the hub caps, rims, shock absorbers, struts, muffler and exhaust pipe. Bellinger hit just .239 in the shortened 2020 season before blowing his shoulder off while hitting a home run in Game 7 with current Red Sox center Quique Hernandez in the National League Championship Series.

A month later, Bellinger had surgery and has never been the same. He hit .165 in 2021 and .210 last season, giving him a .193 batting average and .611 OPS since injury. To put this fight in perspective recently unlisted Red Sox outfielder Franchy Cordero published 0.209–0.629 issues in the same period.

Every organization that signs a player like Bellinger does so in the belief that it can reveal his former greatness. Sometimes they are right, like when the Rangers exonerated Josh Hamilton many moons ago. But it usually turns out that the player was available for some reason. Former MVP Andrew McCutchen, for example, is in his fifth organization in the last six years and has never come close to repeating the heights he achieved in Pittsburgh.

The current value-crazed front offices are what they are, and it could be a matter of targeting Bellinger as a troubled asset and maybe he will reward this team. It just shouldn’t be the Red Sox who can’t afford to mess around with $20 million worth of question marks.

Even with nearly $100 million to spend this winter, they have too many holes to patch up to deal with uncertainty. They are either going to pay Xander Bogaerts or someone who will replace him. They don’t seem to be inclined to spend wild money in the starting pitching market, but even bringing Nathan Eovaldi back on a multi-year contract will probably cost them $15-20 million a year. They could easily spend $20 million on pitchers – the high end of that market has already exploded this winter – and they also need an outfielder, a DH and a starting catcher.

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Even admitting that certainty does not exist, some players are less confident than others, and Bellinger is a perfect example of this.

As the front office moves closer to homogenization, with analytical-minded teams lining up to enlist left-hander Andrew Heaney for a second consecutive winter despite throwing in just 72 innings last year, it’s should be a red flag that the mighty Dodgers pulled turn on Bellinger. They know him better than anyone, and their front office boasts more intelligence than anyone else, and they’re gone. What does it say?

The last thing the Red Sox need in 2023 is a repeat of last year’s outfield event where they bet Jackie Bradley Jr. would recover, with disastrous results. Projects and deals won’t help, especially with a lineup that has already said goodbye to JD Martinez and may be preparing to do the same with Bogaerts.

The Red Sox need top-notch talent, and they can’t take risks. Perhaps another organization can return Bellinger to his MVP levels. The Red Sox should wish them luck and turn their attention to something else.


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