Cody Bellinger is a free agent at 27, an ideal age for a player to hit the open market. But his agent, Scott Boras, sounds as if he wants Bellinger to sign only a one-year deal.
“I’ve already been offered multi-years,” Boras said Sunday, two days after the Dodgers declined to tender Bellinger a contract for 2023. “Most likely, because of his age, we don’t want a multi-year.”
Bellinger’s combined .611 OPS the past two seasons was the lowest in the majors (minimum 3.1 plate appearances per team game played). But Boras is sticking to what he said at the general managers’ meetings in Las Vegas, that Bellinger’s issue was a lack of strength in his right shoulder, not a lack of skill.
Bellinger dislocated the shoulder several times in 2020, then re-injured it celebrating his home run in Game 7 of the NLCS while bashing forearms with teammate Enrique Hernández. He underwent surgery that November, and hasn’t been the same hitter since.
The Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger because they did not want to pay him a salary in the $18 million to $20 million range in his final year of arbitration. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the team explored trading Bellinger before the tender deadline, with no success. Still, this is a player who was the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP.
Through his offensive troubles, Bellinger remained an excellent defensive center fielder and baserunner. If he signs a one-year deal and continues rebounding at the plate — he improved from 10 homers and a .302 slugging percentage in 2021 to 19 homers and a .389 slug in 2022 — he could be a much more attractive free agent next offseason.
Center field is a position of scarcity in the majors. And Bellinger is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the shortage in the market.
Nimmo poised to cash in
The biggest free-agent contract signed by a center fielder was Jacoby Ellsbury’s seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2014 season. Mike Trout and Julio Rodríguez eventually landed bigger guarantees, but through extensions, not the open market.
Brandon Nimmo, the top center fielder in this year’s free-agent class, shares certain similarities with Ellsbury. Both were first-round picks who developed into left-handed hitting leadoff men with speed. Both hit the open market represented by Boras entering their Age 30 seasons. Both were not always durable in the early years of their careers.
Ellsbury, of course, proved a huge disappointment with the Yankees, playing only four seasons before injuries ended his career at 33. Nimmo has dealt with various physical issues over the years, but played in a career-high 151 games last season and, if anything, might be an upward trajectory.
Some in the industry believe Nimmo, who grew up in Wyoming and played less baseball than youngsters in warmer climates, is still improving. His career 130 OPS+ entering free agency is considerably higher than Ellsbury’s was prior to hitting the market. And while Ellsbury was a far more accomplished base stealer, Nimmo’s on-base percentage is 35 points higher than Ellsbury’s was (.385 to .350), and his slugging percentage is slightly higher as well (.441-.439). Since entering the league in 2016, Nimmo’s .379 OBP out of the leadoff spot is the highest in the majors, minimum 600 plate appearances.
Nimmo’s durability? It’s a question, for sure. Prior to last season, he played more than 92 games in a season only once, in 2018, when he appeared in 140. But given his performance when healthy, and the shortage of center fielders in the market, he still should fare quite well in free agency. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicted five years, $100 million.
Anthony Rizzo was wise to reject the Yankees’ $19.65 million qualifying offer, negotiating a higher average annual value in his two-year, $40 million free-agent contract with the club. The next question is whether Rizzo, 33, will accomplish his goal of beating the five-year, $70 million extension the Cubs offered him in the spring of 2021.
The Yankees will face an $11 million decision on Rizzo at the end of his new deal, either exercising his $17 million option or buying him out for $6 million. If the Yankees pick up the option, Rizzo will earn $67 million over four years before again hitting the open market. If not, he will make $56 million over three.
As The Athletic reported in March 2021, the Cubs’ proposal to Rizzo was an initial offer subject to negotiation, and it was front-loaded with escalators that would have enabled him to earn more on the back end.
Four months after Rizzo rejected the offer, the Cubs sent him to the Yankees at the trade deadline. The Yankees re-signed him that offseason to a two-year, $32 million free-agent deal with an opt-out. Rizzo opted out after hitting 32 home runs, his most since 2017, and producing an OPS+ 31 percent above league…
Read More: Rosenthal: Will Cody Bellinger sign one-year deal? Plus Brandon Nimmo’s