As the offseason continues to rumble on, it’s clear that the Yankees are looking for left-handed hitting. They’ve been linked to countless left-handed bats, even going as far as to make contact with their arch-rivals in Boston for Alex Verdugo. While the top name on the trade market is Juan Soto (and we’ll get to him), there is some intrigue from the Yankees in Cody Bellinger.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Yankees are among a group of three teams including the Cubs and Giants that are considered the favorites for the services of the former MVP. It’s not a perfect profile, and the Yankees certainly have concerns, but on the surface, the fit is there.
Will the Yankees be Aggressive or Opportunistic with Cody Bellinger?
Cody Bellinger rebounded after two straight seasons of underwhelming play, posting a 134 wRC+ and swatting 26 HRs for the Chicago Cubs. His defense at first base and centerfield alongside the two corner outfield spots should greatly entice a team looking for a versatile impact bat, but serious concerns do exist. Andy Martino of SNY reported that the team does have concerns regarding Bellinger’s injury history and inconsistency, and that’s not at all the team should evaluate when looking at the 28-year-old lefty.
With an 87.9 Average Exit Velocity and .331 xwOBA, there are serious concerns for regression, although Bellinger did display an ability to hit the ball effectively with two strikes. It’s possible that he developed much better barrel control skills to counteract a regressing skillset physically, and he was still able to hit for serious power despite not generating much damage contact, but how sustainable are those skills? That’ll be something the Yankees would have to answer, but Bellinger’s lack of success against high-velocity brings concern as well.
The league-average hitter had a .315 wOBA against pitches at or above 95 MPH, and yet Bellinger only had a .282 wOBA against those very pitches. His offensive profile has holes, and while no-hitter is perfect, it doesn’t fit the mold of what traditionally results in elite production. Cody Bellinger did manage to display a low strikeout rate (15.6%) and ranked in the 86th Percentile in Sweet Spot% (38%) but if he isn’t an elite hitter, he might fall short of his contractual value.
Defensively, it’s hard to not be impressed by what he brings to the table, as he has +33 Fielding Run Value and +38 Defensive Runs Saved in his career across all three outfield spots and first base. The value he provides with versatility and athleticism gives him a high floor if he’s playing centerfield, where he remains a top-flight defender. He collected +4 OAA this past season out in centerfield despite playing just 686 innings out there, and he collected +5 DRS out at first base in just 421.2 innings.
If Bellinger is a full-time centerfielder, his 108 projected wRC+ will likely net him a 3-3.5 WAR season, but that might not be enough to get a proper return on investment. The conversation regarding the lefty slugger isn’t about whether he’d make the Yankees better or not, but if he’ll improve the team enough to warrant a hefty financial investment, especially considering it could get high enough to price them out of a Juan Soto extension.
Landing Cody Bellinger is going to be expensive, but if it’s below a certain price point I certainly expect the Yankees to get involved. If the bidding gets crazy, Andy Martino’s hesitation to call the Yankees aggressors for Bellinger indicates that they share concerns that would prevent them from making him a priority. Juan Soto still remains the top target for the Bronx Bombers on the position player side of things, and Bob Nightengale did report that Padres’ GM AJ Preller is still trying to convince ownership to keep the star, although all signs point to an inevitable winter trade.