The offseason is officially underway. Teams around the league are working on improving their rosters for the upcoming season.
Some free agent deals have taken place already, with starting pitcher Tyler Anderson leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers and going across town to play with the Anaheim Angels. However, MLB free agency is usually like going to the airport, a lot of hurry up and wait.
A key deadline passed last week when teams could tender or non-tender certain players still in their arbitration years. For example, a couple of years ago, the Twins non-tendered Eddie Rosario to avoid paying him a pay raise from arbitration. The Dodgers did the same thing when they elected to non-tender Cody Bellinger instead of paying him somewhere in the $18 million range.
There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t want to have Bellinger on their squad. At least the Bellinger that became one of the better players in the league. Therefore, a team is going to take a chance on him. So why not the Minnesota Twins? They could take advantage of the unusual circumstance of a player of Bellinger’s caliber being on the open market.
Bellinger became a star player early in his career. He won Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers in 2017, slashing .267/.352/.581 with 39 home runs, 97 RBIs, and a 3.9 fWAR. He followed that up with continued seasons of consistent production. Bellinger earned the 2019 NL MVP after slashing .305/.406/.629 while smashing 47 homers and driving in 115 runs with a 7.7 fWAR. In addition to his awards with the bat, Bellinger also won a Gold Glove as a right fielder in 2019.
But things quickly fell apart for Bellinger during the 2021 season. He slashed .239/.333/.455 with 12 home runs in 56 games. Now that was the COVID season, so the short sample size at the time wasn’t something to get worked up about. However, Bellinger injured his shoulder celebrating a home run in the 2020 NLCS and had surgery after the season. Injuries impacted Bellinger in 2021, and he followed up with another disappointing season. He played only 95 games, producing a .165/.240/.302 slash line with 10 home runs that season.
Bellinger played 144 games in 2022, but his return to the field didn’t mean a return to his 2019 form. He only hit .210/.265/.389 with 19 home runs and 68 RBIs. While the 2021 season wasn’t a complete disaster, it still was a big step down compared to his early-career production. The 2022 campaign for Bellinger looks even worse when you look at his underlying numbers.
Bellinger has struggled to work out, but the Twins might be an ideal spot for him to have a bounce-back season. Getting him out of LA and the high expectations the Dodgers have could be what he needs. Plus going up against AL Central pitching compared to the NL West could help too.
In some ways, Bellinger has run into the Miguel Sano issue. He’s struggling with plate discipline and adjusting to the post-juiced ball era after the 2019 season. Exit velocity isn’t ideal, but Bellinger’s lack of plate discipline is really hurting him.
His chase rate has increased each of the last three seasons from 27.9 percent in 2020, 30.7 percent in 2021, and now 31.8 percent in 2022. Last season, he also set a career-high with a 32.9 percent first-pitch swing rate. Bellinger’s 44.6 percent swing rate in 2019 was up to 49.9 percent in 2022. Additionally, his walk rate was nearly 15 percent in 2019 before plummeting to just 6.9 percent last year.
Maybe the Twins don’t want to go down the Sano road again. Still, there is plenty to be excited about with the potential of a former top prospect and MVP with all of the different areas Bellinger can bring value to Minnesota in 2023.
The Twins currently have a hole in their roster that Bellinger could fill nicely. After trading Gio Urshela last week, third base is Jose Miranda’s to lose. However, Luis Arraez and Alex Kirilloff will compete for first base. Trevor Larnach will likely be in left field, but nothing is certain until we get to March with all of these positions.
Bellinger has logged time at first base and all three outfield spots. The Twins have valued powerful left-handed hitters who can DH, play first base or the corner outfield spots in the past. Plenty of Twins fans said adding a player like Joey Gallo could have helped last year’s team with a left-handed hitting corner outfielder or first baseman. Bellinger could easily be that guy and more if he can return to something close to his 2019 form.
The Twins had their eye on Bellinger when Derek Falvey and Thad Levine first took over after the 2016 season. One of the first rumors during their regime was that they were planning on trading Brian Dozier. The Dodgers were looking to replace Chase Utley and were after Dozier. Talks fell apart that winter when the Dodgers wouldn’t give up Bellinger. Maybe Falvey and Levine’s thoughts on Bellinger have changed over the years, but a prospect as highly touted as he was will likely be enticing to them.
There is going to be a hot market for the former MVP. That said, it is easy to envision a situation where the Twins can land Bellinger. He wouldn’t be a typical buy-low candidate because Bellinger will likely command a salary of around $15 to 20 million this season. However, he is looking to get a one-year prove-it deal. The situation is similar to Josh Donaldson’s with the Atlanta Braves in 2019 before Minnesota signed him to a $94 million contract the following year.
Short-term contracts have become something that has become a staple in Falvey and Levine’s offseason. Nelson Cruz, Alex Colome, and Carlos Correa are prime examples. Falvey and Levine are more than willing to pay top dollar if it’s for a short amount of time. It would be an excellent way to add star power to the lineup if the team can’t extend Correa. However, nothing is preventing the Twins from bringing both to Target Field this offseason – just maybe don’t bring up trash cans if those two are sharing a clubhouse. Anyway, the point is that a run on Bellinger seems right in Minnesota’s wheelhouse.
Bellinger was once one of the best players on one of the league’s best teams. Now, as he enters free agency with a chip on his shoulder, the situation seems perfect for the Twins to pounce and add some star power on a former MVP with plenty of October experience.