Dodgers cut 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger, could re-sign him

cody bellinger
Wally Skalij /Getty Images
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LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger was cut by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, making the 2019 NL MVP a free agent.

Rather than offer him arbitration, the Dodgers decided not to tender a 2023 contract to Bellinger. The 27-year-old outfielder earned $17 million this season, when he batted .210 with 19 homers, 150 strikeouts and a .654 OPS in 144 games.

Bellinger likely would have received a slight raise in arbitration, but the NL West champions chose to let him go instead. The relationship may not be over, though.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a closing of the chapter of Cody and the Dodgers,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said via Zoom.

“We still very much believe in the talent of Cody and his competitive makeup. We have interest in a reunion. We’ll continue talks with Cody and his group as he goes through the process on his end.”

While prized for his defensive prowess, Bellinger has endured a stunning regression on offense over the last three seasons.

In 2021, he was limited to 95 games during the regular season when he was on the injured list three times and batted .165.

His fortunes turned around in the postseason. He hit .353 in 12 games and had the go-ahead RBI single in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the rival San Francisco Giants. Bellinger also launched a tying, three-run homer against Atlanta in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series.

In 2020, Bellinger hit .239 with 12 home runs in 56 games during the pandemic-shortened season. He homered three times in the NLCS, and the Dodgers beat the Braves to reach the World Series. They went on to defeat Tampa Bay in six games to win the franchise’s first title since 1988.

Bellinger has battled injuries since his MVP season, including surgery on his right shoulder in November 2020.

This year, the Dodgers gave Bellinger numerous chances to turn himself around at the plate. He stayed in the lineup as the starting center fielder until September, when manager Dave Roberts benched him against left-handed pitching.

In a sign of things to come, Bellinger was benched against a right-hander in Game 4 of the NLDS as the Dodgers were ousted by San Diego. He flied out as a pinch-hitter in his final plate appearance.

Before his precipitous drop-off, Bellinger was the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2018 NLCS MVP. He made two All-Star teams, and won a Gold Glove in 2019.

“We still really believe in the talent of Cody and feel like he is as committed as ever to figure it out,” Friedman said. “I felt that way coming into ’22 and I feel that way again heading into ’23.”

Should a reunion not occur, the Dodgers’ internal candidates to play center field are Trayce Thompson, Chris Taylor and James Outman.

Also on Friday, the Dodgers non-tendered infielder Edwin Rios and outfielder Luke Williams.

Rios played in 27 games for the Dodgers this year, with seven homers and 17 RBIs. He missed most of the season with a right hamstring strain and finished up with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Williams was selected off waivers by the Dodgers this month. He played in 79 games with San Francisco and Miami in 2022.

Earlier this month, the Dodgers declined their 2023 option on two-time All-Star third baseman Justin Turner, although he could still re-sign with the team. Their qualifying offers to free agent shortstop Trea Turner and left-hander Tyler Anderson were rejected by both All-Stars.

Anderson signed a $39 million, three-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels this week.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.