Will Cody Bellinger remain with Dodgers? We could know by Friday

The Dodgers have stood their ground over the past two seasons, as their star midfielder and formerly most valuable player has been caught in a confusing cycle of injuries, inconsistencies and head-scratching production.

You still believe in Cody Bellinger’s abilities. They’re still hoping the 27-year-old Slugger can rediscover some semblance of the all-star-caliber, Silver-Slugger-winning, Superstar-affirming form of his old self.

“I know he’s working with our boys,” Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, said at Major League Baseball’s general manager meetings in Las Vegas last week, “and doing everything he can to put himself in the position, next.” year to be a real force for us.”

Whether Bellinger will still be with the Dodgers next year is a decision that could be decided in the next few days.

The club must decide by Friday whether to offer Bellinger a contract for the 2023 season or sack him after a stunningly underperforming couple of seasons that have derailed his once burgeoning career.

The decision will center on whether the Dodgers feel comfortable paying Bellinger what is expected to be more than $18 million in salary in 2023.

As Bellinger enters his final year of arbitration under team control, and because the arbitration process virtually always awards raises to players year at a time, Bellinger has been one of the Dodgers’ highest-earning players since he made his then-record $11.5 million first arbitration-eligible season of 2020 as he completed his 2019 MVP performance.

Though Bellinger’s game has waned since then — he’s struggled at .642 on-base plus slugging percent to .195 over the past three seasons and produced at an average well below the league average over the past two years — his salary has continued to rise.

Things are coming to a head this week, and the Dodgers are weighing hopes that Bellinger can offer strength in the middle of the lineup and strong defense in the center of the outfield against fears he’ll suffer prolonged dips at the plate, with problems strikeouts and swing mechanics, and eat up a significant chunk of their payroll while planning for the rest of the offseason.

“We know he works hard with our group and think good off-season strength will put him in a good position to perform. We know that now.”

— Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes on Cody Bellinger

At last week’s GM meetings, Friedman and Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes said the club remained undecided on how to handle Bellinger’s situation.

“We still have time to work our way through how everything looks,” Friedman said.

“We know he works hard with our group and think having good off-season strength will put him in a good position to perform,” Gomes added. “We know that now.”

However, with the Notender deadline approaching, there has been no public indication of which path the team will be taking.

“I don’t know,” Bellinger’s agent Scott Boras said of Bellinger’s future in Las Vegas last week. “But talents [like this] are so hard to find.”

The Dodgers have little doubt about Bellinger’s atmospheric potential.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger (35) runs to first base during a baseball game.

Cody Bellinger played in 144 games this season, batting .210 with 19 homers and a .654 percent on-base plus slugging percentage.

(Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

In his freshman three years, the former fourth-round draft pick averaged 40 home runs per season, won a rookie-of-the-year award and MVP, and seemed destined to be the face of the Dodgers’ future.

But then, after retiring in 2020, he suffered a shoulder injury during a playoff celebration with then-teammate Kiké Hernandez that required surgery. During the 2021 season, he suffered fractures in his left leg and ribs, which sidelined him for much of the year and hampered his performance.

Last year, Bellinger played in 144 games and slightly rebounded from his dismal 2021 by hitting .210 with 19 homers and .654 OPS.

However, he still struggled to find consistent momentum on the plate, was benched in Game 4 of the National League Division Series amid a quiet postseason and went into the offseason with an uncertain future.

“We still think there’s upside potential,” Gomes said of Bellinger at the end of the year.

The question is whether the Dodgers see enough to justify paying him $18 million or more.

The Dodgers have noted this winter would be Bellinger’s first full offseason in three years working with their batting staff, having spent 2021 rehabilitating his shoulder and much of 2022 during the league’s three-month lockout was excluded from contact with the team.

Boras believes his client is rebuilding the most strength he’s had in his shoulders and legs since the 2020 playoffs — something some reviewers believe may have hampered Bellinger’s performance even last year.

Bellinger’s work ethic and drive also continue to be viewed positively. He’s been a frequent early hitter this year, doing countless reps in front of hitting coaches and video cameras. His much-vaunted defense has also remained a strength seemingly unaffected by his troubles at the plate.

“We still have a lot of faith in Belli’s abilities,” Friedman said, “and we’ve seen firsthand how hard he’s worked throughout the season.”

Cody Bellinger is running for first place after hitting a solo home run on San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish

Cody Bellinger is running for first place after hitting a solo home run against San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish on Aug. 7 at Dodger Stadium.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

However, the risk remains.

The risk that Bellinger will not turn things around next year. That the Dodgers could turn to cheaper – albeit lower – alternatives in midfield. That his $18 million could be better spent by an organization that’s built a cunningly efficient reputation under Friedman.

If the Dodgers don’t offer Bellinger a contract Friday, they could still try to re-sign him for a lower salary — much like they did to Justin Turner this offseason after turning down a club option.

But this could also mark the end of Bellinger’s time on the team, as he would likely attract a lot of interest from other applicants trying to snag a former MVP for a more manageable annual salary.

Right now, these are all factors weighing on the Dodgers’ decision-making process.

The team still believes in Bellinger. But the clock of this belief is ticking.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-11-17/dodgers-cody-bellinger-uncertain-future-friday-deadline-arbitration Will Cody Bellinger remain with Dodgers? We could know by Friday

Emma Bowman

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