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Believe in Bellinger? Former MVP Non-Tendered
One of the most active days of the entire offseason took place on Friday, as team's needed to make decisions on which arbitration-eligible players they wanted to tender contracts to for the 2023 campaign. Every year, there are interesting names that wind up non-tendered and unexpectedly land in the free agent pool – and this year was certainly no exception.
The biggest of those names was former National League MVP Cody Bellinger, who was non-tendered by the Dodgers. The 27-year-old was expected to earn around $18 million via arbitration this winter and after slashing a putrid .203/.272/.376 over 1143 plate appearances over the past three seasons, the Dodgers balked at that price.
Remember though, the season before his production fell off, Bellinger slashed an absurd .305/.406/.629 with 47 homers, 115 RBI and 15 stolen bases as a 23-year-old MVP on the way to super-stardom. It's hard to imagine that he has simply forgotten how to hit. Injuries have played a role in his unbelievably quick demise, and his constant tinkering with his mechanics hasn't helped either, but you would think there would be plenty of interested teams that would love to take a shot at fixing his swing.
Jim Bowden of CBS Sports reported on Sunday that at least five teams reached out to Bellinger and his representatives within an hour of him being non-tendered by the Dodgers. More teams have joined the fray since then – leading to an extremely robust market. He isn't going to earn the $18 million that he would have via arbitration, but Bellinger should wind up doing very well for himself on an incentive-laden multi-year contract.
What will be fascinating to see is where he winds up in the minds of fantasy managers. Bellinger has always been a bit of a polarizing figure, and there will still be plenty of managers willing to plant their flag that Bellinger will rebound to have a productive five-category season in his new environment – wherever that ends up being. So far, prior to him being non-tendered, Bellinger's average draft position in early NFBC drafts sat just inside the top 200 picks overall. If just glancing at his stats over the past three seasons, even that high of a price would seem absurd, but fantasy managers love a rebound story and still gush over his dynamic skill set.
While they have yet to be linked to him – at least publicly – what would be really fun for all parties involved would be if Bellinger wound up signing with the Rockies. The could definitely use an outfielder of his ilk and it would be the perfect offensive environment for Bellinger to prove to all of the naysayers that he's not quite washed up just yet.
Mets Talk to Justin Verlander
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on Sunday that the Mets spoke with free agent right-hander Justin Verlander over a Zoom call last week.
The Mets are exploring all available avenues to address their starting rotation this winter, and courting Verlander – one of the top available arms – seems like a terrific idea. The Mets are currently without 3/5 of their rotation from a season ago, as Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker are exploring the free agent market themselves. That leaves the Mets with several holes to fill – and potentially one gaping one at the top if deGrom winds up bolting. It is worth noting though, that Mike Puma of the New York Post reported Saturday that the Mets believe deGrom's preference is to remain with the Mets if the deal is close. Rosenthal also notes that the Mets have spoken with right-hander Jameson Taillon.
Verlander is coming off of perhaps the most remarkable season of his illustrious career. The 39-year-old hurler made just one start during the truncated 2020 season before undergoing Tommy John reconstructive surgery, and then missed the entire 2021 campaign while rehabbing. Some pitchers wouldn't even get the procedure done at that age, and very few would ever dream of coming back to perform at an elite level. Verlander is a different animal though. He wound up logging 175 exceptional innings over 28 starts – registering a league-leading 1.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 185/29 K/BB ratio while going 18-4 to secure his third career American League Cy Young award. Oh, and he also won his second World Series title.
After all of that, it wasn't a surprise that he turned down his $25 million option for the 2023 season and instead decided to peddle his wares on the open market. All of the big market clubs are expected to come calling. While the Mets have already made contact, the Yankees and Dodgers shouldn't be far behind. Astros owner Jim Crane is on record saying that he would love Verlander to return, but right now his courtship appears to be wide open.
As to what sort of contract he'll ultimately land – expect it to carry a massive AAV. MLBTradeRumors.com projects he'll wind up in the neighborhood of a three-year, $120 million deal. Former teammate Max Scherzer currently holds the record for the largest AAV at $43.33 million and being the insanely competitive type that Verlander is, it wouldn't be shocking at all if he made sure to top that figure.
Other Notable Non-Tenders
Bellinger was the biggest name that wound up getting non-tendered on Friday, but he wasn't the only one.
Dominic Smith was not tendered a contract from the Mets, as they seemingly didn't want to pay the $4.5 million or so that he would have earned via arbitration. Mike Puma of the New York post reports that the Royals and Rays are among the clubs that are expected to have interest.
Tigers new team president Scott Harris started cleaning house on Friday, as Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro and Willi Castro were among the notable non-tenders by the Tigers. Expect their Opening Day roster to look vastly different in 2023.
The Rockies non-tendered perennial fantasy favorite Garrett Hampson. The 28-year-old hit just .211/.287/.307 with a pair of homers, 15 RBI and 12 stolen bases over 226 plate appearances in 2022. His speed still gives him relevance if he winds up someplace with semi-regular playing time.
After being a part of the return package in the deal that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres, Luke Voit got the boot off the Nationals roster on Friday as they opted against tendering him a contract for the 2023 season. The 31-year-old slugger slashed .226/.308/.402 with 22 homers and 69 RBI in 568 plate appearances between the Padres and Nationals in 2023. He should land on his feet someplace.
Reds slugger Aristides Aquino was left out in the cold on Friday as well, though it didn't come as much of a surprise. He has gargantuan power – with 41 homers in 762 plate appearances at the big league level – he just has never been able to make consistent contact. He'll generate some interest stateside, though you have to wonder if he could wind up being a star overseas.
The Marlins unceremoniously ended the BrIan Anderson era with a non-tender on Friday. The once-promising third baseman has been ravaged by injuries in recent years, though there's hope that a move away from Miami will be the best thing for his career. Still just 29-years-old, there's intrigue to see where he winds up.
The Cardinals made a difficult decision on Friday by deciding against tendering a contract to former closer Alex Reyes. The once uber-prospect missed the entire 2022 season due to a damaged labrum that ultimately required surgery. He was expected to earn around $3 million via arbitration, and that simply wasn't a gamble that the Cardinals wanted to take on his health. If he does come into the 2023 season healthy, he could wind up being a potential difference-maker in someone else's bullpen.
MLB Quick Hits: Twins outfielder Byron Buxton (knee) told reporters on Friday that he has been cleared to resume running… The Mariners – in the market for a major upgrade at second base – have checked in with free agent Trea Turner and have explored potential trades for Gleyber Torres or Kolten Wong… Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports that the Padres have made Jose Abreu a “top priority” this offseason… Morosi also notes that the Giants have shown interest in closer Kenley Jansen – much to the chagrin of Camilo Doval truthers… Matt Strahm would like to find an opportunity where he could return to a starting role in 2023… The Blue Jays signed Vinny Capra to a minor league deal… The Pirates inked Nate Webb to a minor league pact… Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal has yet to resume throwing and is working on his forearm and grip strength… Jeremy Beasley and Sheldon Neuse are expected to sign with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball… The Red Sox have been in contact with the agent for right-hander Corey Kluber… The A's signed Trenton Brooks and Pablo Reyes to minor league deals… The Cardinals signed right-hander Logan Sawyer after an impressive stint in the Frontier League… The Reds acquired Kevin Newman from the Pirates for right-hander Dauri Moreta… The Braves avoided arbitration with Mike Soroka by agreeing to a one-year, $2.8 million contract… The Tigers and Austin Meadows agreed to a $4.3 million deal to avoid arbitration… Miguel Andújar and the Pirates agreed at $1.525 million… The Twins acquired shortstop Kyle Farmer from the Reds for minor league right-hander Casey Legumina… Jon Heyman of the New York Post notes that “word going around” is that the Dodgers will make a serious run at free agent superstar and American League MVP Aaron Judge… The Tigers claimed Bligh Madris off of waivers from the Rays… The Yankees claimed Junior Fernández off of waivers from the Pirates… The Angels acquired Gio Urshela from the Twins for minor league right-hander Alejandro Delgado with the intention for him to become their starting shortstop… The Rockies claimed Brent Suter off waivers from the Brewers… The Mets acquired Elieser Hernandez and Jeff Brigham from the Marlins for minor league right-hander Franklin Sanchez and a player to be named or cash considerations… The Cardinals brought Oscar Mercado back to the organization on a minor league contract.