In some places in the world, baseball fans can search FanGraphs and Baseball Reference leaderboards, sort stats in descending order, and begin to dream about their favorite team doing everything it can to land the players atop the list.
Here in the land of the Cincinnati Reds, however, we usually get to settle for the inverse.
A quick gander at some hitting statistics dating back to the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season reveals that some 243 hitters have accrued at least 750 big league plate appearances in that time. Among them, there’s only one (1) player who has posted a wOBA below the .266 mark put up by Kevin Newman, who the Reds went out of their way to acquire on Friday evening - the .261 mark put up by Jackie Bradley, Jr., a free agent outfielder.
That search began as a way to quantify just how light Newman’s hitting had been over recent years in the wake of his acquisition by the Reds. That search evolved into this, a search for established-enough outfielders that the Reds could bring in without great financial expense to serve as stopgap big leaguers until the rest of their revamped farm is ready to force their hand into operating like a legitimate big league club once again.
Staring at the bottom of that 243 player list reveals some other interesting options, potentially. Sitting just next to the familiar offensive semicromulence of Tucker Barnhart (.282 wOBA, 14th lowest on the list) is one Cody Bellinger (.281), the former National League MVP and Rookie of the Year whose persistent shoulder issues have successfully torpedoed his once-stellar career arc. Bellinger, whose defense and baserunning have been quality enough to still propel him to 2.1 fWAR of value since the start of 2020, has hit a paltry .203/.272/.376 in over 1100 PA in that time, though a miserable .235 BABIP (9th lowest) certainly hasn’t helped his cause. That said, he has still posted a 34.3% hard-hit rate in that span, better than 149 of his peers in this sample (and better than notable stars like Trea Turner, George Springer, Xander Bogaerts, and Nolan Arenado, among many others).
Uberagent Scott Boras, who reps the former MVP, stated emphatically over the weekend that he’ll only be looking for one-year deals for Bellinger this winter, as the 27 year old outfielder is looking to reestablish value before inking anything longer-term given the swoon that prompted the Los Angeles Dodgers to non-tender him last week. The premise is an easy one - go somewhere that’ll guarantee Bellinger ample playing time with a good ballpark in which to hit, let him smash homers at a rate akin to his previous peak, and re-enter free agency a year from now with much more leverage.
A quick glance at the Cincinnati Reds depth chart shows that, yep, Bellinger being a Red for 2023 and socking homers in GABP would pretty well fit the bill perfectly. The only questions remaining are whether a) the Reds can compete at a price-point that would satisfy Boras and b) whether any other team out there with any more competitive aspirations for 2023 will agree to make Bellinger a key part of that while also complying with his reclamation-project path.
Obviously, if he could work on his individual issues while also competing on a team that’s good enough to win, that would be his preference. Even if he pulled a career-180 akin to that of Josh Hamilton over a decade ago, I’m not sure that paired with the rest of what little the Reds have in store for 2023 would be enough to vault them into legit competition. Still, it’s a tantalizing proposition, especially when you factor in the increased restrictions that will be placed on infield defense shifting beginning next season, something that (in theory) will help left-handed hitters significantly.
For all that Bellinger accomplished before a series of shoulder separations sent his swing sideways, it’s easy to overlook just how far his offense has fallen for several seasons. In digging through his statistical slump, I came across a something that looked eerily familiar to me, a persistent watcher of poor Reds offense over the last few dismal seasons. It prompted the below tweet:
(All stats 2020-2022)— wick (@wickterrell) November 21, 2022
Player A: .272 OBP, .375 SLG, .647 OPS, 1.0 bWAR
Player B: .272 OBP, .376 SLG, .648 OPS, 1.2 bWAR
Player B is Cody Bellinger.
Player A is Aristides Aquino.
This offseason sure is going to be a doozy for the Cincinnati Reds one way or another. I wonder what Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s price will be?