Should The Milwaukee Brewers Pursue Cody Bellinger In Free Agency?
By David Gasper
Remember the 2019 MVP race? Dubbed the "Yeli vs Belli" race as Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich and Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger were neck-and-neck for the NL MVP. Bellinger ended up winning the award that year. Imagine what it would be like to have both those guys on the same team.
Having both Yeli and Belli would sound like a dream come true, at least if it were still 2019. Unfortunately the three seasons since then have not been kind of Yelich or Bellinger for that matter. Yelich signed a contract extension to stay in Milwaukee following that season while Bellinger did not. Bellinger was recently non-tendered by the Dodgers, making him a free agent.
Rumors are Bellinger is looking for a one year prove-it deal to re-establish his value and bounce back to his old form. The Brewers have been willing to make investments on one year deals before. Could they do so again with Bellinger?
Former NL MVP Cody Bellinger is a free agent and while there are good reasons for the Brewers to pursue him, there are also plenty of reasons not to.
Bellinger, 27, is coming off a season where he hit .210 with 19 homers and a 78 OPS+. He had an even worse 2021 season.
In his three seasons combined since winning MVP over Yelich in 2019, Bellinger has a .203/.272/.376 slash line with 46 doubles, 41 homers, and a 74 OPS+. As much as fans complain about Yelich's drop off since 2019, he hasn't been this bad.
But perhaps what Bellinger needs is a change of scenery. After all, he's still young, and obviously a very talented player so he shouldn't be regressing this bad because of age or a drop off in skills or athleticism. Perhaps it's an approach thing, or a mechanical thing that he hasn't been able to fix.
As far as the reasons for the Brewers to sign Bellinger, they start with this: There's no such thing as a bad one year deal. It's one year, it's not a long term investment. If he doesn't play well, the Brewers can simply move on from him. If he does play well, then you improved your team and have an inside track to sign him again if you so choose.
With Bellinger looking for a one year, prove it deal, he's within the range the Brewers might be able to pay. Assuming he's not looking for $10+MM this year, he could fit in the payroll. After all they did that for Andrew McCutchen last year, but trying to squeeze one more good year of a player in his mid-30s with his MVP season nearly a decade behind him is a different story than a 27 year old who's only three years removed from being an MVP.
The ceiling is very high if the Brewers were to bring in Bellinger. If he returns to MVP form, or at least 75% of it, the Brewers will have made a massive improvement to their lineup. But the floor is also very low. There's a chance he continues his regression and struggles at the plate, which would leave the Brewers offense worse off than they are now.
There are other factors to consider as well. Where would he play? Bellinger has been a centerfielder for the Dodgers, but that position is going to be taken by the young prospects, led by Garrett Mitchell and Esteury Ruiz. He can also play first base, but with Rowdy Tellez coming off a good season, would the Brewers want to take ABs away from him? Of course, there's always the DH spot, which would likely be the position Bellinger would spend most of his time at if he were to come to Milwaukee.
Also, what are the chances the Brewers could be the team to fix Bellinger's offensive woes? They already have one former MVP that they haven't been able to get back on track the last three years. What makes the Brewers or Bellinger think that this is the place that would fix him? Would they want to spend probably around $8-9MM of payroll just to see if they can reclaim Bellinger when they haven't shown an ability to develop hitting in the last few years?
Bellinger is a nice reclamation project for someone. Milwaukee just doesn't seem like the best fit for him to get back on track and he doesn't seem like the best fit for the Brewers roster right now. Although it's possible, and there is potentially high reward with Bellinger, I would be very surprised if he ended up in a Brewers uniform in 2023.