The Dodgers avoided arbitration with Cody Bellinger on Friday, agreeing to terms with the reigning National League most valuable player on an $11.5-million salary for 2020, a record deal for a player in his first year of arbitration.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant held the previous first-year arbitration mark of $10.85 million, set in 2018. Bellinger blew by that figure with a stellar 2019 season in which he hit .305 with a 1.035 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 47 homers, 34 doubles, 115 RBIs and 121 runs.
Bellinger, who also won a Gold Glove Award as an outfielder and played superb defense at first base, received a $10.895-million raise over his $605,000 salary in 2019, when the Dodgers renewed his contract.
Four other Dodgers — shortstop Corey Seager, utility man Enrique Hernandez and pitchers Ross Stripling and Julio Urias — agreed to 2020 salaries before Friday’s deadline for players and teams to exchange salary figures in advance of possible arbitration hearings.
Outfielder Joc Pederson, infielder Max Muncy, utility man Chris Taylor and reliever Pedro Baez did not reach contract agreements as of Friday evening and face the prospect of hearings in February to determine their 2020 salaries.
Seager, in his second year of arbitration after hitting .272 with 19 homers, 44 doubles and 87 RBIs, will make $7.6 million in 2020, nearly doubling his 2019 salary of $4 million.
Hernandez, in his third year of arbitration after hitting .237 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs, will make $5.9 million in 2020, up from $3.725 million last season.
Stripling will make $2.1 million after going 4-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 32 games as a swingman in 2019. Urias will make $1 million after going 4-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 37 games—eight of them starts—during a season in which he served a 20-game suspension for domestic violence.
Arbitration-eligible catcher Austin Barnes ($1.1 million) and reliever Scott Alexander ($875,000) agreed to deals earlier this winter.
The Dodgers have not gone to an arbitration hearing since 2007, including the last five years under Andrew Friedman, who took over as president of baseball operations in October 2014.
Friedman has used the salary exchange deadline as an arbitrary cutoff for negotiations, a “file-and-trial” approach that has been adopted by most general managers and is intended to avoid arbitration. But that streak likely will end if the team can’t reach agreements over the next month or so with its four remaining arbitration-eligible players.
Pederson, in his third and final year of arbitration, asked for $9.5 million, a $4.5 million bump from his 2019 salary of $5 million after hitting .249 with 36 homers and 74 RBIs last season. The Dodgers countered with $7.75 million.
Muncy is in his first year of arbitration after two standout seasons with the Dodgers in which he hit .256 with a .927 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 70 homers and 177 RBIs, filed a salary request of $4.675 million. The Dodgers countered at $4 million.
Taylor, who hit .262 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs last season, submitted for $5.8 million in his second year of arbitration after making $3.5 million in 2019. The Dodgers countered at $5.25 million. Baez, a setup man who went 7-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 71 games in 2019, is in his third year of arbitration after making $2.1 million last season. He filed for $4 million and the Dodgers countered at $3.5 million.
Boston outfielder Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League most valuable player, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $27-million deal Friday, breaking Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado’s arbitration record of $26 million set in 2018. This is Betts’ third year of arbitration before becoming a free agent next winter.
Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor agreed to a $17.5-million salary, the second-highest deal for a player in his second year of arbitration. The Dodgers have been rumored to be in trade talks for both Betts and Lindor.
Arbitration hearings are adversarial in nature, with players arguing why they deserve a higher salary and teams picking apart the performances of players to prove they’re not worth as much as they’re asking for. The process can leave a sour taste that for some players can linger into free agency.
So the Dodgers, who have won seven consecutive division titles, were probably relieved to avoid the process — at least this season—with Bellinger, who is represented by agent Scott Boras.
Bellinger, 24, would have made a compelling case in a hearing. He had a monster first half, hitting .336 with a 1.124 OPS, 30 homers and 71 RBIs in 88 games before slipping to .263 with a .917 OPS, 17 homers and 44 RBIs in 66 second-half games.
He hit .280 with a .982 OPS, 18 homers, 44 RBIs 34 walks and 38 strikeouts in 193 at-bats against left-handers after struggling so much against them in 2018 (.226, .681 OPS, six homers, 25 RBIs, 20 walks, 54 strikeouts in 186 at-bats) that he was relegated to a platoon role late in the season.
Bellinger also made what was arguably the best throw of the 2019 season, a majestic 275-foot heave from deep right field to third base to nail Carlos Gomez with the bases loaded to complete a rally killing double play in a 9-5 win over the New York Mets on May 27.