The Mariners Should Steer Clear of Cody Bellinger in free agency

While Cody Bellinger had a resurgent 2023, he poses too large of a risk for the Mariners to meet his expensive demands.

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

Recently, Jon Morosi reported on MLB Network that the Seattle Mariners are considering extending an offer to centerfielder Cody Bellinger. Before last season, the former MVP was coming off of three straight subpar campaigns. However, he posted arguably the second-best season of his career in 2023. His career-high .307 batting average helped contribute to an .881 OPS.

What Caused Bellinger's Rebound?

The former Chicago Cub dramatically increased his rate of contact during his stint in the Windy City. His strikeout percentage of 15.6% and whiff rate of 20.6% were both career bests and contributed to an xBA (expected batting average) that ranked in the 74th percentile.

Bellinger also continued to be a strong defender, something that he has been known for throughout his career. Baseball Savant ranked him in the 87th percentile for Outs Above Average and in the 86th percentile for arm strength.

While his speed is decreasing from his earlier years, he is still a plus runner. His sprint speed of 28.3 ft/sec ranked in the 75th percentile in the MLB last season, and he was one of 50 MLB players that Baseball Savant measured as producing at least 2 runs as a baserunner.

Should the Mariners Target Bellinger?

Bellinger is an intriguing option with a lot of upside. However, there is too much risk involved for a deal to make sense. While his numbers bounced back in 2023, his Baseball Savant numbers show underlying cause for concern.

During Bellinger's disappointing 2021 and 2022, he posted hard-hit rates in the 20th and 39th percentiles, respectively. Last year, he was only in the 10th percentile. He also posted career-low percentiles in barrel percentage (27th percentile) and exit velocity (22nd percentile), while having the second-worst walk rate of his career (7.2%).

He was also lucky. Bellinger's xBA and xSLG were .268 and .434, but his actual stats show a .307 batting average and .525 slugging percentage. Bellinger grossly overperformed his expected batted ball metrics, something that is very unlikely to continue into future seasons.

According to FanGraphs, Bellinger's STEAMER projection for 2024 is a slash line of .256/.321/.449/.770 with 25 home runs and 18 stolen bases, numbers that are in line with his xBA and xSLG last season. An above-average hitter who is a solid defender certainly seems like a player that any team should love to have.

However, Bellinger's reported asking price is around $250 million, with an average annual value between $27.5 to $30 million. For a player who is coming off his first good season in multiple years (which was propelled partially due to luck), a quarter of a billion dollars is far too rich of a gamble.

Seattle would be better off investing that portion of their payroll into other hitters that can be acquired via trade, such as Randy Arozarena, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., or Jorge Soler, instead of hoping a player as volatile year-to-year as Bellinger pans out.