Why Red Sox shouldn't pursue former MVP Cody Bellinger in free agency

Tomase: Cody Bellinger risk isn't worth potential reward for Red Sox originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

In a different offseason, the Red Sox could justify being all over Cody Bellinger. How often do five-tool 27-year-old former MVPs hit the market for absolutely nothing? Take a flyer, hope he turns into another David Ortiz.

During this particular winter, however, Bellinger is exactly the type of player the Red Sox should be studiously avoiding -- underperforming, flawed, potentially broken. Let someone else fix him. The Red Sox have too many holes to indulge in another reclamation project.

This is only a conversation because the Dodgers made the sensible and yet still shocking decision not to tender Bellinger a contract in his final year of arbitration. Bellinger probably would've made about $18 million, per MLB Trade Rumors, but that number became untenable based on his production in what can only be described as a staggering fall from grace.

Bellinger earned the Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and followed up with the 2019 MVP after slamming 47 homers and winning a Gold Glove. We had every reason to believe he was embarking on a Hall of Fame career, joining Mookie Betts to form one of the most potent, dynamic, athletic 1-2 punches in the game.

Then the wheels fell off, along with the hub caps, rims, shocks, struts, muffler, and tailpipe. Bellinger hit just .239 during the truncated 2020 season before blowing out his shoulder while celebrating a Game 7 home run with current Red Sox center fielder Kiké Hernández in the National League Championship Series.

Bellinger underwent surgery a month later and has never been remotely the same. He hit .165 in 2021 and .210 last season, giving him a .193 average and .611 OPS since his injury. To put those struggles into perspective, recently non-tendered Red Sox outfielder Franchy Cordero posted .209-.629 numbers during the same span.

Every organization that signs a player like Bellinger does so believing it can unlock his former greatness. Sometimes they're right, such as the Rangers rehabilitating Josh Hamilton many moons ago. But it usually turns out the player was available for a reason. Former MVP Andrew McCutchen, for instance, is on his fifth organization in the last six years and has never come close to rescaling the heights he reached in Pittsburgh.

Today's value-obsessed front offices being what they are, there could be a case for targeting Bellinger as a distressed asset, and maybe he'll reward that team. It just shouldn't be the Red Sox, who can't afford to dink around with $20 million question marks.

Even with nearly $100 million to spend this winter, they must patch far too many holes to be dealing in uncertainty. They're either going to pay Xander Bogaerts or someone to replace him. They don't seem inclined to spend wildly in the starting pitching market, but even bringing back Nathan Eovaldi on a multi-year deal will probably cost them $15-20 million annually. They could easily spend $20 million on relievers -- the high end of that market has already exploded this winter -- and they need an outfielder, a DH, and a starting catcher, too.

Tomase: Red Sox' apparent strategy for 2023 rotation is puzzling

Even acknowledging there are no sure things, some players are less sure than others, and Bellinger is a perfect example.

As front office approaches homogenize, with analytically minded teams lining up, for instance, to woo left-hander Andrew Heaney for the second straight winter even though he only threw 72 innings last year, it should be a red flag that the mighty Dodgers pulled the plug on Bellinger. They know him better than anyone and their front office boasts more brain power than anyone's, and they walked away. What does that say?

The last thing the 2023 Red Sox need is a repeat of last year in the outfield, when they bet on Jackie Bradley Jr. to rebound, with disastrous results. Projects and bargains won't cut it, especially in a lineup that has already waved goodbye to J.D. Martinez and could be preparing to do the same to Bogaerts.

The Red Sox need high-end talent and they're not in a position to gamble. Maybe another organization can restore Bellinger to his MVP levels. The Red Sox should wish them luck and turn their attention somewhere else.