Should Red Sox be aggressive in Cody Bellinger pursuit if he’s non-tendered?

The 2022-23 free-agent market is overflowing in many areas, but it’s slim pickings in the outfield department. The Boston Red Sox, whose outfield leaves much to be desired, will have to get creative.

Should they take a flier on Cody Bellinger?

The struggling Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder is rumored to be a non-tender candidate before the 8 PM ET deadline on Friday, November 18.

Bellinger hit .210/.265/.389 over 144 regular-season games in 2022, with 106 hits, including 27 doubles, three triples, and 19 home runs. That’s not exactly the typical non-tender resumé. For reference, Rafael Devers was the only Red Sox hitter with more than 16 home runs this year.

Will the Dodgers non-tender Cody Bellinger?

The 27-year-old centerfielder is on the chopping block because he was a superstar not long ago, and has fallen off an offensive cliff. In 2017, he was the National League Rookie of the Year and an All-Star, and he won NL MVP, a Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger in 2019, his second All-Star season. That year, he collected 34 doubles and 47 home runs across 156 games.

Since 2019, he’s only managed to hit .203/.272/.376 with 46 doubles and 41 home runs in 295 games. Whereas he scored 121 times and drove in 115 RBI in 2019, he’s only managed 142 runs and 134 RBI over the three seasons since.

Non-tendering Bellinger allows the Dodgers to reallocate a significant sum towards other areas of need, though being over budget hasn’t been a concern for them in recent years; their $280M payroll was second only to the New York Mets in 2022. This offseason, they’re operating with roughly the same amount of financial flexibility as the Red Sox, even more so without Bellinger.

This is Bellinger’s third and final year of arbitration eligibility, and even though he’s had a rough few seasons, he won’t come cheap; the Dodgers avoided arbitration and paid him $17M last year. He wouldn’t command close to that on the open market after his performance the last few seasons, but he still has significant upside and bounce-back potential, two of Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom’s favorite traits in a target.

The Sox outfield is a bit of an incomplete mess at the moment. They extended Kiké Hernández through the 2023 season, presumably to bridge the gap to superstar prospect Ceddanne Rafaela, who’s projected to debut late next year or early in 2024. Alex Verdugo is someone manager Alex Cora named as a player who needs to improve, but who’s also been named as a possible trade candidate. Then there’s the underperforming Jarren Duran, utility-man Rob Refsnyder, possible non-tender candidate Franchy Cordero, and Christian Arroyo, who’s better suited to the infield. All in all, not an inspiring crew.

If the Sox are interested in Bellinger, they’ll have competition. The Toronto Blue Jays, who just traded Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners, are one team reportedly eyeing Bellinger.

Update: Dodgers plan to non-tender Cody Bellinger

The Dodgers are, in fact, non-tendering Bellinger: