We have used this idea for the last couple of years. The idea is to go through some of the top free agents, use the contract FanGraphs suggests they will get and have a poll asking if we would like to sign him for that amount.
Bellinger is 28 (turns 29 in July of next year), is a left-handed batter who played center field and first base last year (a strange combination, but when you throw left-handed, you can’t play any of the other infield spots), is a former NL MVP and NL Rookie of the Year.
Defensively, he’s pretty average in center, but he’d likely be above average in left (he’s played 315 innings in left in his career). Though throwing left-handed, he’d likely be better in right (but the Jays might have difficulty convincing George Springer to change positions again).
Offensively, he had a terrific 2023 season, hitting .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs, good for a 134 wRC+. But that was after two below-average seasons. He had a 47 wRC+ in 2021 and 83 in 2022. By fWAR, his last three seasons were -1.0, 1.8 and 4.1. I find it hard to put a value on players like this. Do you offer him a contract, thinking the good year is the player you will get? Is it more likely that he will end up somewhere in between?
There were injury issues. He had a dislocated shoulder in 2020, which he had surgery on after the season, which might have caused some of his offensive problems in 2021.
Bellinger had the highest 2023 fWAR of any free-agent hitter outside of Shohei Ohtani, which is rather incredible given how bad he was just two years ago — in 2021 he was a win below replacement level, and then rallied for 1.8 fWAR in 2022. (His bWAR figures for those years were -1.7 and 1.2, respectively.) Bellinger left his strikeouts in LA, going from a career-worst rate of 27.3 percent in 2022 to a career-best of 15.6 percent in 2023. The move to the Cubs brought him back to two hitting coaches he knew from the Dodgers’ system, Dustin Kelly and Johnny Washington, and they made some modest adjustments that added up to a big change in his output. He’s more upright now through contact, staying back on the ball better, and better able to pick up pitch types — he went from negative run values in 2022 on curves, sliders, and changeups, to positive ones on all three pitch types in 2023, improving by 17 runs year-over-year against changeups alone.
Would you be interested in signing a 28-year-old who has already won an MVP award? Of course you would. But what if I told you that he’s batted 1,700 times since then and has been worse than league average over that span? Doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it? But he hit really well this year – promising! He did so by exceeding his Statcast expected numbers – confusing! Truly, Bellinger’s resume is one of the strangest I’ve pondered in recent years.
In a year with more top hitters available, I don’t think Bellinger’s market would be quite so robust. The warning flags are simply too easy to see, and teams don’t need much excuse to not spend money. But if you’re looking for an impact hitter this offseason, where else can you turn? If you’re trying to find a new perennial All-Star, there simply aren’t many options, and Bellinger is the most defensively flexible in addition to being the youngest player with a big league track record.
The Jays could use someone else to play center when Varsho gets a day off. I’m wondering if the Jays would prefer a right-handed hitting bat, but if they want to go the free-agent route, there aren’t many options that are as interesting as Bellinger. And Bellinger had reverse splits last year, with a .984 OPS vs. LHP and .830 vs. RHP. But that might be a sample size thing, career he’s been much better against the right-handers.
Ben Clemens figures he will get a 6-year contract worth $150 million, averaging $25 million annually. Bellinger is young for a free agent, he will likely be able to continue playing outfield until the end of that deal, but he is a very good first baseman as well.
Should the Blue Jays sign Cody Bellinger if the price is $25 million annually for 6 years?
This poll is closed
Probably, but I’m not enthusiastic about if
Probably not, but I wouldn’t hate it
No, Absolutely not