It’s no secret the White Sox need another outfielder. Maybe even two. It’s one of the many issues that must be addressed this off-season.
After trading for AJ Pollock, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn thought he had found his right fielder. Pollock then proceeded to have his worst season in five years, posting a .245 batting average and an OPS+ of 91. It was his first season since 2017 that he has had an OPS+ below 100. Despite the down year, he opted out of his contract giving the White Sox more money to spend.
Meanwhile, Eloy Jimenez suffered another injury, providing yet another reason the White Sox can’t afford to have him run around in the outfield. Next season Jimenez will likely spend most of his time as the White Sox designated hitter.
Adam Engel was non-tendered, making Luis Robert the only outfielder on the roster projected to start next season. As it stands, Oscar Colas has the inside track position to take on the starting role in right field. But if Colas makes the team, he will be getting his first taste of MLB action. Having an unproven rookie without much depth isn’t exactly a roadmap to success for a team hoping to contend.
The White Sox also had glaring issues on defense. Take your pick for whatever defensive metric you’d like, and it doesn’t matter—the White Sox rank near the league’s bottom half. Nobody in the American League committed more errors than the White Sox.
Another issue was their lack of power, specifically from the left-hand side. Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada were useless at the plate, while Gavin Sheets was their most productive left-handed bat with just 15 home runs. All these things need to be addressed, which is why Cody Bellinger is such an intriguing free agent.
Former MVP Hits The Open Market
Bellinger was non-tendered by the Dodgers after being due roughly $18 in his third year of arbitration. However, Dodger president of baseball operations, Andrew Freeman, told reporters that they would try and bring Bellinger back on a cheaper deal. Unfortunately for Freeman, 29 other teams can do the same. The 27-year-old is on the open market for the first time in his career. A change of scenery could do him some good.
He’s been a highly decorated player during his six years in the MLB. During his time in Los Angeles, he’s won Rookie of the Year, been named to two All-Star teams, and taken home a National League MVP, NLCS MVP, a Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger Award.
But the last three years have left a lot to be desired. He has failed to hit above .240 in each of the previous three seasons. He has also failed to eclipse 20 home runs. However, he has a high ceiling and fits most of the qualities the White Sox are looking for. Should the White Sox take a flier on him?
The Case For Cody Bellinger
Defense Wins Championships
Bellinger is a plus defender. His ten outfield assists in 2018 ranked second amongst right fielders. In 2019 he earned a Gold Glove for his work in right field. Bellinger also paced the field in range factor per game as an outfielder in 2020. In 2022 he ranked first in the NL in putouts for an outfielder. Bellinger’s range and speed pair perfectly with Luis Robert in center field.
For a team lacking defense, Bellinger represents an upgrade no matter which corner outfield spot they put him in.
Left Handed Bat
Bellinger’s first three years in the league give any team a reason to take a serious look at him. During his rookie campaign, he launched 39 home runs and drove in 97 RBIs. He had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2018 but still posted solid numbers. In 162 games, he hit 25 home runs and posted a .815 OPS. He bounced back with 47 home runs, 115 RBIs, and a league-leading 351 total bases.
If the White Sox could get half of that production, it would be a step up from all their left-handed bats on the roster last season.
Even when he slumps, Bellinger always seems to play his best baseball when it matters most. His postseason stat line doesn’t jump off the page, but his list of clutch moments does.
In 2017 he hit a tiebreaking RBI double off of Astros closer Ken Giles in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series.
The following season he hit a walk-off two-run single in the 13th inning of Game 4 of the NLCS to even the series against the Brewers. Three games later, he hit the go-ahead two-run home run to give the Dodgers the lead and eventually send them to the World Series. His heroics resulted in him being named the 2018 NLDS MVP.
In 2020 he hit the tiebreaking home run in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves to send the Dodgers to the World Series again. In Game 1 of that World Series, he opened the scoring with a two-run blast to propel the Dodgers to a series-opening win.
Even after an abysmal 2021 campaign that saw him slash .210/.265/.389 with just ten home runs and 36 RBIs, Bellinger redeemed himself in the playoffs.
In the 2021 NL Wild Card Game, Bellinger drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth to set up Chris Taylor for an epic walk-off home run over the Cardinals. In the Division Series, he hit the tiebreaking RBI single in the top of the ninth in Game 5 to give the Dodgers a dramatic series win over the rival Giants. He added to his postseason resume by hitting a 96-mph fastball 399 feet for a three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 3 of the NLCS to spark an improbable comeback against the Braves.
Rick Hahn has repeatedly said that he values postseason experience. Playing for the Dodgers gives a player plenty of that.
Why It Is Not A Good Fit
A convincing case can be made for Bellinger. However, despite all his accolades, the reality is that he has been terrible the past three seasons. In 2020 he showed his first dip in production with a .239/.333/.455 slash line. Things got worse in 2021. He had a career-worst OPS+ of 44, which was 68 points lower than the year before.
Meanwhile, his batting average plummeted to .165, while his slugging went to .302. Leury Garcia put up better numbers that season.
Bellinger has never been one to hit for average. His career batting average is .248. For a team like the White Sox, you can live with that if he is hitting home runs. But the Scottsdale native’s power has deteriorated over the last two seasons. In 2021 he had a career-low ten home runs. He also ranked in the bottom one percent in wOBA. This was despite having excellent protection in the lineup.
To make matters worse, he also has a high strikeout rate. His 150 strikeouts in 2022 led to an abysmal 27.3 strikeout rate, which ranked in the bottom 14 percent of all MLB hitters. The plate discipline isn’t there. According to Baseball Savant, his whiff rate ranked in the 33 percentile while his chase rate was in the 30th percentile.
His 19 home runs don’t justify such a high number. The White Sox can’t afford to have another hitter that strikes out as much as Bellinger does if he isn’t hitting the ball out of the ballpark.
When Bellinger put the ball in play, he didn’t hit it very hard. His hard hit percentage ranked in the 39th percentile, and his max exit velocity was in the 31st percentile.
While Bellinger’s game has plenty of upsides, there are way too many red flags. His production has decreased across the board in the last three seasons, despite being surrounded by an immensely talented lineup.
The Dodgers are one of the best-run organizations in baseball. The fact they are hesitant to pay him $18 million tells you all you need to know. Especially for a team used to dishing out mega contracts for stars. The White Sox would be better off spending their money elsewhere.