The New York Yankees' roster is in trouble. The only rookie they seem to have meaningfully uncovered in 2023 plays center field, but tore his UCL in September. Their massive free agent splurge should involve a $200 million+ contract on a center fielder who was non-tendered prior to the 2023 season.
There are many reasons a Yankees-Cody Bellinger union could work. His prodigious power from the left side was laughably missing from all recent versions of New York's lineup. He was an MVP candidate prior to a 2020 shoulder injury, and remade his diseased swing in 2023 in Chicago. His father was a Yankee and a champion; the emotional press conference photos arrange themselves.
But, after watching the Yankees' entire fleet of post-Gerrit Cole groundbreaking acquisitions crash and burn, this fan base is scarred. They're conditioned to regressions and worst-case scenarios. Whatever ligaments can be strained, will be strained. Regrettably, it doesn't even take significant mental gymnastics to pinpoint how a Bellinger contract could go sour. It just takes a light warmup and an Eric Cressey stretch.
The criticism writes itself if the Yankees pay out an eight-year deal to a player they could've had last year on a one-year flyer. Sadly, despite the obvious potential benefit, I can't look past the fact that it'd be the Yankees doing it, and therefore the 10th-percentile outcome is my brain's front-running option.
Yankees could use 2023 Cody Bellinger, but we all know they wouldn't get him
Who knows when I got this cynical? Maybe it was the Joey Gallo trade. Perhaps the Carlos Rodón signing. Or maybe it was the Every Single Moment of the Past Four Years. Either way, I've been through enough of "How did that not work?"s to be wary of potential "Ok, I plainly predicted that wouldn't work"s. Bellinger doesn't seem like the kind of guy to turn his back on Matt Blake -- but, then again, neither did the fiery Rodón, who also had an emotional connection to the Yankees, if not a familial one.
Despite impressive numbers, and with 81 games of short porching potentially ahead of him, Bellinger rarely hit the ball particularly hard in 2023. His barrel percentage is well in the Cubbie blues; his hard-hit rate fell in the 10th percentile. There's a world where any dip in Bellinger's luck is canceled out by favorable ballpark conditions in the Bronx. It's not like Wrigley Field is cavernous, though. Just because the right-field seats don't have a derisively-used nickname doesn't mean they're miles from home.
Bellinger seems resigned to leaving Chicago, recently speaking about his exceptional experience with a coaching staff that figured him out in the past tense. Unfortunately, I can't shake the vision of the Yankees scooping up someone else's unlocked gem, only for things to turn in the opposite direction almost immediately as the familiar spiral continues. "What the heck happened to Bellinger?" my phone buzzes with the same text it's received the past three seasons with different names swapped in and out.
I know what happened. He joined the Yankees.