The move is sure to save the Dodgers money: Bellinger was expected to earn between $17 million and $19 million this season, and the club can use the cost savings to compete at the top of the free agent market, try to retain All-Star shortstop Trea Turner or perhaps reset their luxury tax cap.
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But that hefty paycheck owed to Bellinger was built on three largely excellent seasons early in his career, which included a 39-home run Rookie of the Year debut in 2017 and a 47-home run MVP effort in 2019, so that Bellinger was just in his under-23 season.
Yet instead of enduring greatness, Bellinger’s career took a wrong turn at what should have been its peak: he dislocated his shoulder celebrating his home run in Game 7 of the Championship Series. of the National League 2020.
The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series in the pandemic-induced bubble, but Bellinger hasn’t been the same since.
He underwent shoulder surgery in November 2020, but his comeback woes were exacerbated when he suffered a hairline fracture in his left fibula at the start of the 2021 season. With both his top and bottom halves failed, Bellinger has hit .165 and his OPS dropped to a career-worst .542, with just 10 home runs in 315 at-bats.
Bellinger was only nominally better last season, batting .210 with a .654 OPS and 150 strikeouts in 504 at strikes. Still, Bellinger is one of the most athletic players in the game and, through all of his offensive woes, has provided the Dodgers’ elite defense in center field.
That, combined with the hope that he would get his old shot back, made the prospect of bringing him back for one more season viable. But the writing was already on the wall: Bellinger didn’t start in two of the Dodgers’ four NL Division Series games against San Diego and in another, backup receiver Austin Barnes hit for him late in the game. sleeve.
So the Dodgers, through baseball’s arbitration system, faced a deadline Friday to offer him a contract or make him a free agent.
Although the club may attempt to re-sign Bellinger on a lower salary, his planned departure will for the time being leave center field to Trayce Thompson and Chris Taylor, with significant leeway to pursue an option through free agency and trade.
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