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Is Cody Bellinger New Rangers Free Agency Option?

Cody Bellinger's unexpected appearance on the market gives the Texas Rangers something to think about as they try to sign a hitter.

The Texas Rangers want a middle-of-the-order bat. Thanks to a Friday transaction, the Rangers now have a place on their 40-man roster. And, thanks to the Los Angeles Dodgers, there’s an intriguing bat on the market.

The Dodgers decided not to tender a 2023 contract to outfielder Cody Bellinger on Friday, putting a former National League Rookie of the Year and MVP on the open market.

Bellinger is just 27 years old and was a part of the Dodgers’ run to the 2020 World Series title. Why on earth would the Dodgers choose to non-tender him?

Well, there is belief that the Dodgers want to make a serious push to sign New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who is a free agent. Writers who follow the free-agent market believe the Yankees will ultimately re-sign Judge. But the Dodgers are one of the few teams that can compete monetarily with an asking price the New York Post believes will be nine years and $330 million.

The second is that Bellinger hasn’t produced like the hitter he was in the first three years of his career. But is it a protracted slump brought on by injuries, and does it represent an opportunity for a team like the Rangers to swoop in and get player like Bellinger cheaper than they might otherwise?

Bellinger’s 2019 season was his high mark and his MVP season. He batted .305 with 47 home runs and 115 RBI. The following season, the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, Bellinger batted .239 with 12 home runs and 30 RBI. But he and the Dodgers, including current Rangers shortstop Corey Seager, won the World Series.

Since then? Bellinger’s production has plummeted. In 2021, he batted .165 in 95 games, a season shortened by a myriad of injuries. He hit 10 home runs and drove in 39 runs.

Bellinger was healthy last season but the struggles at the plate persisted, as he batted .210 with 19 home runs and 68 RBI.

The question for the Rangers is two-fold. First, what is Bellinger worth? Second, what is the risk?

The first question is probably more pertinent. Bellinger was due to make between $17-19 million in salary arbitration before the Dodgers non-tendered him. On the open market, just one year away from free agency, Bellinger and his agent could look for a one-year deal with incentives that allows him to rehab his numbers and go back into the market next offseason looking for a long-term deal. Remember — his first three seasons he hit .278 with season averages of 37 home runs and 96 RBI. Before the COVID season and the injuries, he produced.

On the open market, is Bellinger worth what he would have fetched in arbitration? That’s hard to calculate. The recency bias of his last two seasons probably means teams will try and low-ball him. That’s where the second question comes in. There isn’t much risk in signing Bellinger to a one-year deal. But general managers will want to mitigate that risk by not committing too much to him. If it’s a one-year deal, $10-12 million seems reasonable. But teams will likely wait until a few free agent bats sign — especially Judge — to set the market.

The Rangers have an advantage here. He plays shortstop. Seager and Bellinger were teammates and came up in the Dodgers’ organization together. They were drafted the same year, 2013. Seager got to the Majors two years earlier than Bellinger, but both earned Rookie of the Year honors.

Seager could sell the organization on the player that Bellinger was before 2020, the one that had power, speed and could play the outfield with a aplomb. While the Rangers have Leody Taveras in center field and Bubba Thompson in left field, the Rangers don’t have to install Bellinger in either position. He could be their designated hitter and fill in as an outfielder when needed.

Bellinger’s sudden appearance on the free-agent market gives the Rangers another option as they try to find another bat this offseason. The Rangers will end up determining if the risk of signing Bellinger to a one-year deal is worth the potential reward for a team that is trying to contend next season.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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