Yankees dodged a major free-agent outfield bullet

mlb: game two-chicago cubs at cincinnati reds, cody bellinger, yankees, mets
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees might’ve dodged a serious free-agent bullet this off-season with centerfielder Cody Bellinger. The fact that the Yankees were so aggressive in pursuing Juan Soto and eventually acquired him tells a full story.

Soto is a Hall of Fame-level bat who’s played a minimum of 150 games for three consecutive years. He played all 162 games during the 2023 season, hitting a whopping .275/.410/.519. He added a career-high 35 homers, 109 RBIs, a 155 wRC+, and had a higher walk rate than strike-out rate. Soto is elite every single season and has never had a year with an OBP below 40%.

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The Yankees Dodged a Free Agent Bullet

However, the alternative on the market was Bellinger, a 28-year-old who’s coming off a dominant season with the Chicago Cubs. Over 130 games, Ballinger hit .307/.356/.525, including 26 home runs and 97 RBIs. Not too shabby, but the Yankees also realize this is his first great year over the past three seasons, indicating significant inconsistencies.

Bellinger is looking for a deal over $150 million on the open market, and general manager Brian Cashman kept tabs but never really considered it. Even Jack Curry of the YES Network indicated that the Yankees never really were in on his sweepstakes, and given the fact he is still a free agent, it indicates the market is having a hard time placing a realistic price tag on his services.

Bellinger is an elite defensive player, though, playing 686 outfield innings last season with four outs above average and also featuring at first base across 421.2 innings. Bellinger’s ability to play both the outfield and first base makes him extremely valuable defensively, but the Yankees giving him a long-term deal worth over $150 million would’ve been a major risk. He’s had some injury issues in the past, and the fact he sways between great and bad is a red flag.

The Yankees made the easy decision: Acquire Soto, who is a Hall of Fame level player every single season, and go from there. Pairing him with Aaron Judge should do wonders for the top of the batting order, and the Yankees already acquired Alex Verdugo to fill left field, a player who has the capacity to be an above-average hitter and a solid defensive asset.