How does a player with a combined OPS+ the last two years of just 64 (36 percent below league average) command strong attention in free agency? He does if he is a past National League Most Valuable Player, as outfielder Cody Bellinger is. And he does if his intention is to sign a one-year deal, which brings more teams into play in the bidding.
Should the Orioles be one of those teams?
Why not? To use a phrase once big in Birdland. Sure, the Orioles have talent they like now in their outfield, and more on the way from the farm. But how would Bellinger look hitting in the middle of a lineup with players like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, to name two. He is a lefty hitter the Orioles are said to be seeking that could play all three outfield spots, first base or DH.
And if the O’s did sign such a player they could take their outfield surplus and deal from that – say for pitching. It all could work out nicely in Birdland.
Here is the catch, or catches, as it were.
For one, Bellinger’s offense did fall off dramatically the last two seasons. His agent, Scott Boras, wants us to believe - and he could be right - that it was mostly due to injuries, and that Bellinger will use 2023 as rebound and/or platform season to show what he truly can do. That would then set him up for a bigger contract for 2024.
For two, can the O’s win a bidding war that is sure to include several teams and maybe double-digit teams?
For three, if Bellinger can indeed bounce back next year, some club might get a one-year bargain, or at least their money’s worth for a season with a player very motivated to produce.
For four, could the Orioles convince Bellinger that Baltimore is the right place for his make-good season?
I think they could.
They are a team on the rise, and Bellinger would be hitting in a lineup filled with young talent. As a lefty hitter, he would have the short porch and flag court in right field in his sights each time up at home. The clubhouse is considered a real positive now in Baltimore, and Bellinger could enjoy stepping into that. He might even enjoy taking a leadership role with the improving Birds.
Bellinger, who made $17 million last year, was due to make $18 million, maybe more, via arbitration before the Dodgers non-tendered him, making him a free agent.
In 2017 he was the unanimous pick as NL Rookie of the Year, and in 2019 he was the NL MVP, hitting 47 homers with an 1.035 OPS. But his batting line in 2021 and 2022 was a combined .193/.256/.355/.611. That is bad, not just below average. His fall was a big one.
But the reported interest in him has been high. No doubt most teams expect him to reclaim or get much closer to his previous form next year. And more teams come into play for a one-year deal. Even if he signed for a huge amount - $18-25 million, for instance - the big-money boys could take that on for a year, no problem.
Could the Orioles - and should they - take a long look at Bellinger?