Would former Dodgers star Bellinger be right for Giants? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO – During the 2021 season, while watching Cody Bellinger do early batting practice at Oracle Park, a member of the Giants staff talked about the adjustments he would try to make if he could work with Bellinger, who was struggling at the time to get past the off-season shoulder surgery. Bellinger never found his old form that year and he wasn’t much better in 2022, leading to a surprise result on Friday for a young outfielder who was NL MVP just three years ago.
The Dodgers did not offer Bellinger, who owed about $18 million in his third year of arbitration. While president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman later told reporters he would like to bring Bellinger back at a lower number, the outfielder is now free to negotiate with 29 other teams for the first time in his career.
Right now, Bellinger is a very flawed hitter. He also ticks off a lot of boxes for Farhan Zaidi and the Giants front office.
This group has always been drawn to past pedigrees, and some of Zaidi’s most notable success stories have been with high selections and former top prospects. That was part of the equation when signing Kevin Gausman, and the Giants placed a big bet last season that there was more in the tank for Carlos Rodón, once the third overall pick in the draft. From hits like Darin Ruf to misses like Alex Blandino, the Giants have often bet on players who were first-rounders or ripped through the minors much earlier in their careers.
Zaidi has also had success with former Dodgers, most notably Joc Pederson and Donovan Solano, an infielder he knew from their Triple-A system. He was the Los Angeles general manager when Bellinger won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2017, hitting 39 home runs as a 21-year-old.
Zaidi isn’t the only Giant with connections to Bellinger. Gabe Kapler was the Dodgers’ farm director when Bellinger came through the minors, and Pederson and Alex Wood are former teammates.
However, the fit here is not because of connections.
On every occasion, the Giants have said publicly and privately that one of their main goals this offseason is to get better defensively and more athletic at center. Bellinger was in the 92nd percentile in Outs Above Average last season and what the Giants saw in their matchups with the Dodgers matched the stats. He’s above average defensively in center field and he’s also been a good first baseman in the past, which would appeal to a staff that likes defensive versatility and will likely go into next season without Brandon Belt.
If the Giants can’t lure Aaron Judge, putting Bellinger in center field would allow them to bring Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater back to the corners and turn the outfield defense from a disadvantage to a strength.
There’s a reason, of course, why the Dodgers — who can afford anyone — decided that Bellinger wasn’t worth the going rate.
Since winning the MVP Award in 2019, Bellinger has hit .203 with a .648 OPS and 41 home runs in over 1,100 at bats. As tempting as it is to imagine him putting one in the hole in Oracle Park and dishing out doubles and triples with his above-average speed, he’s swung and missed too many times in recent years for that to even be a likely possibility. to make.
Bellinger struckout 150 batters last season, and there isn’t much in his batting profile to suggest better times are ahead. He was in the bottom half of the league in hard hit percentage and bottom fifth in projected slugging percentage.
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The team that signs Bellinger this winter is betting he is stronger with more time away from his 2020 shoulder surgery, which came after he injured himself in a postseason celebration. The bet would also be on a team’s hitting coaches and analytical staff, and while the Giants are extremely confident in their ability to get the most out of hitters, the Dodgers outperform anyone else and just gave up on Bellinger.
The 27-year-old probably won’t be cheap either. Bellinger is a client of Scott Boras, and at the GM Meetings earlier this month, Boras called Bellinger a “five tool player” who has been slowed down by the Covid injury and interruptions.
“This guy is a great defenseman, a great runner, a very accurate throwing arm, he can play Gold Glove first base and center field. You just don’t find talent like that at 26, 27 years old,” said Boras. “It’s really about getting his strength back so he can repeat his skill level.”
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Bellinger will likely sign a one-year contract and return in the offseason, which should appeal to the Giants, who have repeatedly gone down that road with pitchers coming in with red flags. If the salary is significant, there would be a lot of risk to a front office who just guaranteed Pederson almost $20 million, still Yastrzemski, LaMonte Wade Jr. and has Luis Gonzalez in the roster and has other gaps to fill.
The upside is there, though, and if Bellinger gets anything close to his old form at the plate, someone might have the off-season bargain. At the very least, he’s an elite defenseman in a position the Giants need, and that’s enough to make him very interesting as they pursue ways to impress this offseason.
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