Yankees have “mixed feelings” on top left-handed free agent, insider reports

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves
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The Yankees have been linked to Cody Bellinger multiple times by multiple reporters over the offseason, but one insider is throwing cold water on that hot stove. According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the Yankees have “mixed feelings” internally regarding Cody Bellinger, and the data behind his 2023 season suggests there are concerns to have. Bellinger, who put up a 134 wRC+ and hit 26 HRs, had his best season since his 2019 NL MVP season.

Sporting one of the largest differentials between actual and expected data, the Yankees might not be as into Cody Bellinger as people would think.

Why the Yankees Could Show Caution in Pursuit of Cody Bellinger

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York Yankees
Jul 9, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Christopher Morel (5) and center fielder Cody Bellinger (24) celebrate after tying the game in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Bellinger did put up a .370 wOBA, which was in the top 15 for qualified hitters, but his xwOBA of just .331 places doubts on his ability to repeat it. Typically, hitters with large differentials in wOBA and xwOBA possess an incredible hit tool or an ability to pull flyballs at an extremely high rate. Cody Bellinger didn’t pull the ball in the air much more than the league average, and while he only struck out 15.6% of the time, his 20.1% Whiff Rate is merely good, not great.

There’s also a lot of chase in his profile, with a 31% Chase Rate (33rd Percentile), so there could be concerns about his on-base percentage going forward. Quality of contact is also something that Bellinger lacks, ranking in the 10th Percentile in Hard Hit% (31.4%) and 22nd Percentile in Exit Velocity (87.9). Steamer projects a pretty harsh regression for Bellinger, as he’s slated for just a 108 wRC+, which is certainly above average, but it isn’t the type of offensive boost you anticipate for a nine-figure contract.

Netting below-market value on big deals is something that has hamstrung the Yankees in the past, and the uncertainty regarding Bellinger’s offensive profile certainly raises red flags about what he should be worth. He does present incredible defensive value with 5 Fielding Run Value (81st Percentile) and can play a strong outfield and first base for added versatility, but the Yankees could spend their money elsewhere.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago White Sox
Sep 30, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) watches his RBI-double against the Chicago White Sox during the second inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, Juan Soto is the best hitter that could change teams this winter, and while he isn’t a free agent, it’s still a $33 million hit toward the luxury tax. Furthermore, the Yankees would want to give Juan Soto a massive contract if they land him, and the team already has Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, and Giancarlo Stanton tied up to multi-year contracts.

Another avenue that signing Cody Bellinger could close is the Yankees pursuit of star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was posted earlier this week. The 25-year-old right-hander is set to receive a contract north of $200 million, and after putting up a 1.44 ERA in his final three NPB seasons, he could become one of the 10 best starters in baseball pretty quickly. The Yankees should not let money be a limiting factor for them, but we know that it’s been a finite resource for them in recent years.

Signing Cody Bellinger doesn’t seem like the sure-thing that some reports have led fans to believe, and there are legitimate reasons for the Yankees to steer clear this winter.