Does Cody Bellinger make sense for the Cleveland Guardians?

Division Series - San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two
Division Series - San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two / Harry How/GettyImages

Cody Bellinger is about to be non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him a free agent just three years after he won the 2019 NL MVP award.

That year, Bellinger hit an incredible .305/.406/,629 with an outstanding 47 homers, 115 RBI, 34 doubles, and a 167 OPS+, as he also added a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger to his hardware that offseason.

After winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2017 as well, Bellinger looked to be in the early stages of what would be a career as a perennial MVP contender. But since that magical 2019 season, Bellinger hasn't even come remotely close to that level of production, and in 2022, he struggled mightily to a .210/.265/.389 line with 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, 27 doubles, 150 strikeouts, and just a 78 OPS+.

The 2020 and 2021 seasons weren't much better, either. That's about as steep a fall as you can have, putting Bellinger's value at or near rock bottom right now.

But is he a reclamation project worth pursuing for the Cleveland Guardians?

Does Cody Bellinger Make Sense for the Guardians?

Bellinger is in his third year of arbitration eligibility, and he did make $17 million in 2022. There was no way the Dodgers were willing to pay more than that to avoid arbitration, so the move to cut him loose makes all the sense in the world.

And at a cheaper cost, he does have some potential value to the Guardians. Bellinger is only 27 years old, and a case could be made that a variety of injuries have derailed his career the past few seasons to some extent. The talent is clearly there, even if his batted ball metrics have fallen off a cliff since 2021 - he posted his lowest xBA averages in 2021 and 2022, and his strikeout rate increased to a career-high 27% this year, as he was walking at the lowest rate of his career (7%) as well.

So he's not hitting the ball as hard or as well as he has in the past, and he's striking out more than ever. But he's a solid defender who has clear 40-homer potential. That's certainly not something to ignore - even in a horrid 2022, he still managed to hit 19 home runs.

So the Guardians could theoretically catch lightning in a bottle here if Bellinger is able to reclaim even a fraction of his past production. But it helps that he's good in the field, giving Cleveland more potential flexibility in the outfield, and has some speed on the bases.

It really just comes down to the market for Bellinger. Other teams might certainly view him as a project worth taking a chance on, so the Guardians could easily get priced out. And at the same time, do the Guardians really want two center fielders potentially struggling at the plate in Bellinger and Myles Straw?

The idea of Bellinger having a bounceback season with Cleveland, hitting 30-40 home runs and making the front office look like geniuses yet again is enticing, but it feels like a stretch at this point. If the dust settles from free agency and Bellinger is still floating out there, the Guardians could kick the tires, but it still seems more likely Cleveland would rather swing for the fences on a bigger trade this offseason.