The Rockies are among the growing number of teams with some interest in recently non-tendered outfielder Cody Bellinger, reports Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. The 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP has also been tied to the Blue Jays and Giants in the past few days.
While Bellinger, who has hit just .193/.256/.355 over the past two seasons after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2020, is an obvious reclamation project at this point, he’s also a fairly sensible fit for the Rockies. Colorado center fielders were among the least-productive groups in all of MLB in 2022, slashing .240/.298/.334. The resulting 65 wRC+ was the second-worst mark of any team’s center field group. Bellinger, of course, has been even worse than that tepid output in recent seasons, but any team signing him will be rolling the dice on a return to form — if not all the way back to his MVP-caliber numbers then at least to a once-again productive source of power.
The Rockies have a pretty clear hole in center field, where a combination of Yonathan Daza and Randal Grichuk would be slated to play as things currently stand. Grichuk posted a .259/.299/.425 (88 wRC+) batting line in 2022, falling well shy of the expectations the Rockies had when acquiring him from the Blue Jays.
Daza makes tons of contact and even topped a .300 batting average in 2022, but his .301/.349/.384 slash also draws attention to his complete dearth of power; Daza has just four homers in 844 Major League plate appearances, so any regression in the .347 BABIP he’s enjoyed over the past two seasons could result in far more problematic bottom-line numbers. Defensively, both Grichuk and Daza turned in sub-par marks for their glovework in center field.
Bellinger, for all his warts at the plate over the past two seasons, has maintained at least average defensive marks (well above-average, per Statcast) for his work in center field and provided value on the basepaths. He’d also give some needed balance to a lineup that presently skews very heavily toward the right side of the plate. Third baseman Ryan McMahon and right fielder/designated hitter Charlie Blackmon are the only two lefties assured of any playing time. Corner prospects Michael Toglia (switch-hitter) and Nolan Jones (lefty), the latter of whom was recently acquired in a trade with the Guardians, could also add some balance if they play their way into the mix.
All teams with interest in Bellinger will have to determine just how big a bet they feel comfortable placing on his ability to rebound. The Dodgers clearly weren’t comfortable with his potential arbitration price — MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected an $18.1MM salary — but Bellinger will still command a weighty salary if enough teams join the bidding. Agent Scott Boras recently told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that Bellinger is likely to sign a one-year deal, and the brevity of that term could also serve to drive up the eventual price point. (Teams are typically far more willing to make aggressive bids on one-year deals than on multi-year arrangements.)
The question of how high to bid is a particularly pertinent one for a Rockies team that is already projected to shatter its previous franchise record — even with just one small signing on the docket so far this winter. The Rockies’ previous record for Opening Day payroll came in 2019, when they spent $145.3MM. Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez projects that they’re already up to $158.5MM. The Rockies will have to spend some money this offseason if they’re to have any hope of improving on another poor showing in 2022. Still, it’s fair to wonder whether the best use of their presumably limited resources will be to put down an eight-figure offer on a bounceback candidate, however high the ceiling may be.
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