Yankees need to be cautious about a potential $200 million mistake

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves, cody bellinger, yankees
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are connected every off-season to the biggest and brightest free agents/trade prospects in the game — it’s part of why the hot stove is always such a fun time of the year. General manager Brian Cashman always does his due diligence in the free agent market and considers every option, even if it doesn’t seem probable.

This time around, Juan Soto is the player in focus via the trade market, but outfielder Cody Bellinger has also emerged as a potential fit for a team that desperately needs offensive support.

Bellinger is coming off an elite season with the Chicago Cubs, but there are some concerns about his power hitting, which hit an all-time low despite his incredible metrics in 2023. The 28-year-old hit .307 with a .356 OBP and a .525 slugging rate, including 26 home runs, 97 RBIs, and a 134 wRC+.

This was his first great season since 2019, which is a bit problematic given the lack of consistency. Bellinger is expected to earn somewhere in the $200 million range, and the Yankees could be taking a substantial risk by giving him a deal of that magnitude with only one productive season in his last four.

In addition, he recorded a career-low 31.4% hard-hit rate, 6.1% barrel rate, and 87.9 average exit velocity. His power dropped off quite significantly, and the Yankees need to be extremely careful investing big in a player they could’ve gotten unusually lucky given some of his metrics don’t match up with his production.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports that teams need to figure out if Bellinger is a risk, but the Yankees are in a spot where they may have to take a few to improve an offense that scored the 6th fewest runs in the league last year.

Yankees Only Have so Much Money to Spend

The problem is, if the Yankees land Bellinger on a big contract, their chances of landing Juan Soto decrease substantially, given his estimated $30 million salary in arbitration. Obviously, Soto would be the preference, given he’s been phenomenal every season and has played a minimum of 150 games for three consecutive years. In addition, he’s three years younger than Bellinger but offers some of the worst defense in the game — his offensive quality easily covers up any fielding liabilities.

At the moment, Bellinger would be a good supplementary option if the Padres decide to keep Soto for his final year of control. Many believe that the Padres will have no choice but to offload a significant amount of salary, given they took a $50 million loan out to cover their payroll in September. Soto is projected to earn a significant amount, and the Padres may have to pair another contract with him just to save himself some financial complications.

There are always risks and concerns with free agents, even ones you cannot see. Carlos Rodon is a perfect example of that, but the Bombers can’t afford to skip out on this off-season and not improve the batting order significantly, even though they have plenty of faith in some of their rising prospects.

Owner Hal Steinbrenner promised Aaron Judge he would continue to build around him last off-season, so it is safe to say the Yankees will at least spend big on one acquisition, but the truth is they need a new starting pitcher and a premium outfielder.

A perfect world would see the Bombers land Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Soto in the same off-season, which is enough to overhaul their chances of pushing deep into the postseason.