Despite the Yankees adding Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo to the outfield, they’re continuously linked to former MVP CF Cody Bellinger.
Bellinger remains on the free agent market, and his chances of landing a mega-deal seem to be dwindling. Teams are concerned about his consistency, and while he’s just 28 years old and coming off a tremendous 2023 season, his two years prior to that were downright bad, to say the least.
For example, in 2022, Bellinger hit .210/.265/.389, including 19 homers and an 83 wRC+. He was a below-average player by a significant amount, and just because he had one great season doesn’t erase the disappointing ones.
With that being said, we know that Bellinger has the capacity to be an above-hitter and a tremendous defensive asset. Given his young age and versatility, the Yankees could find a place for him in 2024, but they should dodge that bullet at all costs.
Will Leitch of MLB.com believes the Bombers could move Verdugo, acquire Bellinger, and build a truly elite outfield. It’s a lofty ask, especially since the team would have to blow past the $300 million active total payroll threshold.
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The Yankees Would See Immediate Regression
At the end of the day, Bellinger will likely experience a regression in production, making whatever deal he signs a loss of value almost instantly. Just like a car, the second that contract is driven off the lot it loses value, and the Yankees need to be adding players that are getting better and not riddled with inconsistencies.
The major concern is Bellinger’s hard-hit percentages and slugging metrics. He posted a career-low 31.4% hard-hit rate and a 6.1% barrel rate this past season. Those indications suggest he may have been making better contact but not hitting the ball very hard, but certainly adds a bit of caution to a long-term contract.
The Yankees don’t want to be strapped with a $150 million deal that quickly becomes another bad situation they have to wait out. They’re already sitting through Giancarlo Stanton’s contract and owe him $98 million until a $10 million buyout clause in 2028. They have Soto in right field, who should get an aggressive offer from the Yankees in free agency in 2025, and Judge locked in long-term.
Fortunately, they have a few exciting young prospects climbing the system, notably Jasson Dominguez, who could take over in left field after Verdugo’s control expires after the upcoming season.
The truth is simple: Bellinger would be fantastic, given his quality bat, and can play first base at a high-level, but it is a significant risk. General manager Brian Cashman isn’t going to be able to spend the money to acquire Cody and Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
We know the Yankees need pitching, and their focus is the Japanese international star. If they were to strike out on that front, maybe there’s a conversation to split that money in half, acquiring Bellinger and a player like Jordan Montgomery to help fill the middle of the rotation. However, Montgomery isn’t the ace Yamamoto expects to be, so there is a drastic fall off in expectation there.
The only logical rationale to give Bellinger a big money deal would be to transition to first base full-time in the future. This past season, he played 421.2 innings at the position, hosting a .993 fielding percentage, and five defensive runs saved. He could take over after Anthony Rizzo’s contract expires.
The Yankees could simply relocate that $20 million Rizzo is making to Bellinger, but they do have a few young prospects making a push. Keep an eye on Ben Rice this upcoming season, who won the team’s Developmental Hitter of the Year award last season.