SAN DIEGO — The subtractions from a roster that won 111 games last year just keep coming.
The latest is the most recent Dodger to win an NL MVP award. As expected when the Dodgers opted not to tender him a contract three weeks ago, Cody Bellinger took his talents – diminished as they appear to be – elsewhere, agreeing to a one-year, $17.5 million contract with the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras, talked up Bellinger’s market, saying there were “11 or 12 teams” that had reached out and expressed interest in signing the former MVP.
“We’ve had multi-year offers for him but we’re probably going to pursue a one-year contract,” Boras said, the idea being Bellinger could re-establish his value in 2023 then return to free agency next winter and sign a longer, more lucrative contract. “Belli is a player I think a lot of teams are surprised is available – a 27-year-old MVP-type guy who suffered an injury, is getting his strength back. I think there’s a lot of teams that are looking at that as a very serious upside.”
After news of the signing broke, Cubs manager David Ross expressed that same sentiment, saying (as the Dodgers have) that Bellinger’s shoulder surgery in November 2020 and leg fracture in April 2021 were the largest factors in his offensive decline.
“I think that’s got to play a part in it,” Ross said. “Playing through an injury, trying to come back, and learning how to balance wanting to be out on the field and actually getting fully healthy, I think, is what a lot of players in my experience deal with and try to rush back and maybe not getting all the way there (health-wise).
“Getting into a space where you’ve got a leg issue, you’ve got a shoulder issue, and you get into some bad habits. Bad habits create mistakes or make it tougher to hit, and then you get into this rabbit hole of chasing the feeling that you used to have and where you’re at mechanically. There’s a lot of freedom in getting a full off-season to get healthy and recognize that. And a change of scenery sometimes is a benefit for a lot of guys.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Heaney became the last Dodgers pitcher to parlay success with the team into a big payday elsewhere. Heaney made $8.5 million on a one-year contract with the Dodgers last season and pitched just 72⅔ innings for them due to shoulder problems. He agreed on a two-year, $25 million contract with the Texas Rangers on Tuesday.
Earlier this offseason, Tyler Anderson went from a one-year, $8 million contract with the Dodgers to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Angels. Reliever Chris Martin made $2.5 million while splitting 2022 with the Cubs and Dodgers. He signed a two-year, $17.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox last week.
And reliever Tommy Kahnle made $4.75 million over the past two years with the Dodgers, spending most of it rehabbing from Tommy John surgery (and a forearm injury) and pitched only 12⅔ innings for them. He agreed to a two-year, $11.5 million contract with the Yankees on Tuesday.
The departures have decreased the Dodgers’ payroll – likely an item on their offseason agenda in order to avoid a third consecutive year over the Competitive Balance Tax Threshold. But combined with Justin Turner’s unsigned status and just one notable addition (free agent pitcher Shelby Miller), it does seem like a lot of turnover for a team that had a historic regular season last year.
“Yeah – but last year that was the same question,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said of a winter during which shortstop Corey Seager, relievers Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly, outfielder AJ Pollock (via trade) and starting pitcher Max Scherzer all departed. “I think if you look over the last five years there’s been a lot of change. The thing that is most important for us is to sustain success for as far out as we can see. We’ve interjected new faces over the years and will continue to do so this year.
“We’ve seen a lot of large-market teams compete for a short period of time then fall off a cliff. We are trying to continue to balance that – as we have over the last five, six years – to be as good as we can be in 2023 while also keeping open that window to compete for championships each and every year.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he is confident that the team will add an outfielder in the wake of Bellinger’s departure.
“I would say somebody that can manage center field is probably a top priority, yeah,” Roberts said.
The two most accomplished players on the free agent market who fit that profile are the New York Mets’ Brandon Nimmo (also represented by Boras) and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier.