Dodgers to non-tender Cody Bellinger, making former MVP a free agent

The Los Angeles Dodgers will not be anticipated to tender a contract to Cody Bellinger earlier than Friday’s deadline, making the 27-year-old former MVP a free agent. 

Bellinger was set to make round $18 million in arbitration. Whereas the Dodgers might nonetheless re-sign him to a lesser deal, simply getting thus far is a shocking improvement for the 2017 Nationwide League Rookie of the Yr and 2019 NL MVP whose previous couple of years in Los Angeles have trended within the mistaken course. 

4 seasons in the past at 23 years outdated, Bellinger launched 47 residence runs with a 1.035 OPS to earn his second All-Star nod and his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in an MVP season. Whereas his efficiency fluctuated at instances early in his profession, it by no means dipped beneath league common. He mashed at the least 25 homers with an OPS+ of 120 or higher in every of his first three years within the majors and seemed to be one of many preeminent younger superstars within the sport. 

Then got here the 2020 season. 

Bellinger appeared like himself early that spring, slashing .324/.343/.588 throughout Cactus League play, earlier than the pandemic delayed the season. Upon return to play, he could not replicate his common type. He started swinging and chasing extra usually, and a continuing tweaking of his mechanics hindered any rhythm, although he nonetheless posted a 112 OPS+ whereas providing above-average protection at first base and within the outfield. 

He additionally performed a pivotal position in serving to catapult the Dodgers to their first World Sequence championship in 32 years. 

Bellinger hit 4 residence runs in the course of the 2020 postseason, one in every of which was the decisive blast within the Dodgers’ Nationwide League Championship Sequence Sport 7 comeback win towards the Braves. After rounding the bases, Bellinger celebrated together with his teammates. A forearm bash with Kiké Hernández was a little bit too aggressive, inflicting Bellinger’s proper shoulder to dislocate. It was not the primary time Bellinger skilled the feeling together with his non-throwing shoulder, although the problem by no means brought about him to overlook important time beforehand. He performed in all 162 video games in 2018, 156 video games in 2019 and 56 of 60 video games in 2020. 

After the newest shoulder subject, he elected to get arthroscopic surgical procedure in November 2020. He was forward of schedule in his restoration, however as he constructed again power in his shoulder one other setback loomed. 4 video games into the yr, Bellinger was again on the shelf after struggling a hairline fracture in his leg. He later handled hamstring and rib accidents and completed the 2021 season with a .165/.240/.302 slash line in 95 video games. 

“You kind of learn a little bit about yourself,” Bellinger beforehand mentioned. “You really, truly know how hard this game is, to never take anything for granted.” 

His chase share climbed, his strikeout charge worsened and his mechanics had been in flux. Bellinger’s .542 OPS was the third-lowest of all main leaguers with at the least 300 plate appearances that season, however the Dodgers maintained their perception within the precocious slugger, and he rewarded them within the postseason. In an effort to make extra contact and catch as much as velocity, Bellinger widened his stance, lowered his fingers, flattened his bat path and simplified his swing. 

“He was really just trying to put the bat on the ball,” hitting coach Brant Brown mentioned final October. “That’s something we talk about all year.” 

If Bellinger might try this, ideally, his typical energy would comply with. 

A extra compact swing helped Bellinger present the game-winning hit to topple the division-winning Giants in Sport 5 of the 2021 NL Division Sequence. Within the subsequent sequence, an NLCS rematch towards the Braves, Bellinger gave the Dodgers an opportunity. Together with his workforce trailing 2-0 within the sequence, Bellinger caught as much as a 96-mph fastball — one thing he hadn’t been capable of do all yr — and despatched the providing from Luke Jackson out for a game-tying three-run residence run in a 6-5 win. 

The Dodgers could not mount one other 3-1 sequence comeback towards the Braves, however Bellinger’s standout postseason (.353/.436/.471) offered a promising launching level for him to probably recapture his MVP type for the 2022 season. 

However one other uncommon offseason adopted. 

This time, the lockout prevented gamers from understanding with groups. Upon his return, Bellinger mentioned he deliberate to maintain an analogous stance and method to the one which helped him succeed within the 2021 postseason. However these adjustments had been made largely to regulate for an injury-riddled marketing campaign and weren’t meant to be everlasting. 

“I don’t think in baseball you ever have it figured out, you know what I mean?” Bellinger mentioned. “It’s always a game of adjustments.”

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Feeling more healthy in 2022, the tinkering continued. He could not get again on observe. 

The Dodgers continued encouraging him to attempt to go the opposite far more usually. The objective was to discover a constant routine and course of, however there appeared to be a disconnect between how his swing appeared, what felt snug to him and what made him succeed. 

“He’s his own person,” Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc mentioned earlier than the 2022 season. “If he comes up with a thought, he has the right to try that. It’s his swing, his career, and we’ve got to be there to help and support him, even if we don’t necessarily think that’s the right thing at that moment.” 

Added Brown: “He’s really trying to navigate on what his feels are. Sometimes, we all know hitters’ feels will deceive them.” 

Bellinger completed the 2022 season slashing .210/.265/.389 with 19 residence runs whereas posting the bottom stroll charge and highest strikeout charge and chase share of his profession. Over the past three years, he’s tied for the bottom wRC+ (78) amongst all main leaguers with at the least 1,100 plate appearances.  

His teammates counseled him for working by means of his points with out complaints or excuses. 

“I just think about the guy more than anything,” Kershaw mentioned in April. “We all love Belli. We all see him grinding every day, good or bad, to try to figure it out. Coming off the shoulder surgery and all those things, that’s a challenge for anybody. He grinded through, didn’t say anything about it.”

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Comply with him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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