The Cubs trimmed a majority of their original list of non-tender candidates during last week’s roster purge, so Friday’s 7pm CT deadline doesn’t mean much for them in terms of current players. Rowan Wick may not be a sure thing, but Rafael Ortega is in real danger at this point after a season in which his defense and baserunning left a lot to be desired. The Cubs have already said they’re looking for help in center and at least two of their primary targets bat left-handed, so that roster spot is pretty valuable.
One of those targets is Cody Bellinger, who the Dodgers probably don’t want to pay an estimated $18-19 million in his final year of arbitration. After starting his career on a Hall of Fame trajectory, the former Rookie of the Year and NL MVP underwent surgery to repair his right shoulder following the 2020 season and has been pretty awful at the plate every since.
Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder celebrating a home run in Game 7 of the NLCC on a forearm bash with Dodgers teammate Kiké Hernández, then had it popped back in and continued playing through the World Series. The injury itself and the fact that Bellinger was comfortable pulling a Lethal Weapon came from having previously dislocated it several times while making diving plays on defense. As Richie Sexson will agree, that’s not great for one’s career.
Even though it’s Bellinger’s non-throwing shoulder, it’s also the one that gets the most extension on his swing. Scott Boras said during the GM Meetings that his client is good to go and just needs to rebuild his strength to get back to his previous level of production, but Bellinger should be way past that point by now. I have to believe his issues stem from a repatterning of his swing mechanics as a result of either initial physical weakness or ongoing psychological blocks.
The hardest part of coming back from injury, particularly when surgery is involved, is the mental aspect. Having confidence that bones, muscles, and joints are secure is far more complicated than simply trusting the work of the doctors who patched you up. If an athlete isn’t truly able to cut it loose with full intent, strength and health don’t matter. What’s more, they may not even realize they’re holding back.
I’d say only Bellinger knows whether or not that’s the case, but he might be completely blind to it. Or maybe it’s like the yips. My guess is that he does have some sort of mental hurdle that is manifesting in decreased physical output, in which case it’s possible a change of scenery will do him good. Maybe shaking up his routine in a big way will allow him to break down and repattern his swing once more.
Even with the poor overall performance, his 92 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers was more than good enough given his strong defense. Becoming just a league-average hitter would make him a huge upgrade over the Cubs’ collective options in center this past season, especially doing so at a reasonable rate for just one year. With Bellinger on the radar, the Dodgers’ decision will have a greater impact on the Cubs than what Jed Hoyer and his front office due with their own non-tenders.