Blue Jays: Cody Bellinger on a one-year deal makes sense
Ever since centre fielder Cody Bellinger was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Toronto Blue Jays have been linked to the former 2019 NL MVP. Once a star player on the Dodgers squad, these past few seasons have seen Bellinger struggle to put up the same numbers in the batter's box which ultimately led to him being non-tendered.
While this regression may seem like the Jays should be wary, there are a lot of positives when you look at Bellinger and what he could do for this squad in 2023.
From 2017 to 2019, the Arizona product was a top bat, posting a .278 average with a .928 OPS, slugging 111 home runs and 288 RBI during that time frame which helped him earn the Rookie of the Year Award in 2017 as well. From 2020 to 2022 is where he started to slide, as Bellinger posted just a .648 OPS through 295 games with just 41 home runs and 134 RBI while striking out 286 times.
Taking a step back as Bellinger has will cause some fans to be wary of his production moving forward but one thing that sets him apart is his defence. A natural centre fielder, Bellinger owns a career 14 bDRS at the position and sat in the 92nd percentile in Outs Above Average last year, committing three errors while adding two outfield assists. He also sat above the 50th percentile mark in terms of outfield jump, arm strength, and sprint speed.
By having Bellinger on the squad, George Springer can be moved to right field to help protect him in the long run from injuries as well as fill the hole created by the Teoscar Hernández trade earlier this month, hopefully, both in the lineup and in the outfield.
Cody Bellinger and the Blue Jays makes sense
For starters, he is a lefty bat and plays in centre field, two areas on the roster that the Blue Jays front office was looking to fill this offseason. While his bat isn't at the top of the wish list of some Jays fans, some rule changes in 2023 could also benefit the former Dodgers slugger.
This upcoming season will see the defensive shift being banned across the MLB, so there will be no more scenarios with three infielders on one side of the infield.
For Bellinger, this is good news, as he is a pull hitter (career 36.8%) to centre (career 49.2%) who rarely goes opposite field at just 14.1%. He was shifted 90.5% of his plate appearances last year, with opposing teams placing the shortstop just back from second base and having the second baseman play towards the middle of the right side, covering more ground for the pull. His wOBA associated without the shift came out to .302 compared to not being shifted at .283 for last season.
Without the shift being present for Bellinger, there is a fair argument to make that should he continue to pull the ball, there is a possibility of seeing better results due to fewer players on the right side of the diamond. This of course is negated by the fact that he needs to put the ball in play in order for that to happen and bring down the strikeout percentages (27.3% in 2022) but a lefty bat who has power as he does could really benefit from a hitter-friendly ballpark like the Rogers Centre that hit fly balls 32.8% of his at-bats last year.
A one-year deal (with an option for a second season) seems like a fit for the Blue Jays as well, as Bellinger has reportedly turned away multi-year deals in order to try and capitalize on the free-agent market in the near future. The Jays have turned one-year deals into profit before (see Semien and Ray) and while expecting Bellinger to have an MVP calibre season with Toronto is super high expectations, if he can find the pre-2020 form that saw him post 25+ home runs a season, this deal could turn into an easy win. The risk will be there that he doesn't pan out at the end of the day, which makes the scenario frustrating if the club decides to sign him instead of someone like Brandon Nimmo and he puts up a strong campaign.
It should also be worth noting that Shane Seney, who was on the John Schneider extension earlier this year, tweeted out that Bellinger and the Jays were working towards a multi-year/one-year plus option type of contract that could be revealed within the next few days. We shall wait and see.
Overall, there is an associated risk with signing a player like Bellinger, hoping that a change of scenery helps reverse the current trajectory of his batting line. There are defensive benefits to signing the centre fielder that would surely benefit the Blue Jays and signing him to a short-term deal likely allows the front office to make other free-agent signings as well to help bolster the starting rotation or potentially add another arm to the bullpen.
Moving forward, if the Jays are looking for outfield help and a bat to break up the righties, Bellinger is one player that just makes sense for the Blue Jays squad in 2023.