When the Dodgers non-tendered Cody Bellinger early this offseason, they hoped to bring him back on a less-expensive deal, but they knew there was a chance he’d go elsewhere. His departure to the Cubs leaves them with somewhat of a hole in center field, which could be filled internally or they might go outside the organization.
Last week at the Winter Meetings, Dodgers Nation talked with Los Angeles beat writer Juan Toribio about the center-field situation. This was before both Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Kiermaier signed contracts to play elsewhere, but Toribio’s thoughts on L.A.’s thought process remain valid.
“[Center field] is going to be kind of interesting. I mean, they have a couple places to replace Bellinger,” Toribio said. “You lose a left-handed bat, so you kind of have to add in a left-handed bat. You’re losing one of the best outfielders in baseball. Obviously his offense wasn’t coming around the last two years, but his defense never wavered, I mean he was a great center fielder. So you have to replace that defense in center field.
“And now, with all the rule changes and stuff like that, center fielder — I know the shift is on the infield — but center fielder is still a center fielder. So it depends on how they want to do it. Does that come in one player or does that come in two different types of a guy? Like do you get a left-handed bat who DHes or whatever the case may be, and then you get a defensive guy in center field.”
Any offense the Dodgers get from center field will be a bonus over the last two years of Bellinger, but as Toribio points out, Belli’s defense will be hard to replace. With Nimmo and Kiermaier both off the board, L.A. might turn to prospect James Outman, who had a brief but torrid start to his big-league career in 2022, posting a 1.409 OPS in four games in July and August. Outman bats left-handed and could likely provide more offense than Bellinger did the last two years, and his defense in center is said to be outstanding, with some even saying Outman is the best athlete in the Los Angeles organization.
There aren’t many options left on the free-agent market. Rafael Ortega hit well for the Cubs in 2021, but he was back to below average in 2022 and has always been below average defensively. Guys like Billy Hamilton and Travis Jankowski would provide great defense but would likely be even worse than Bellinger’s been offensively. So the job might be Outman’s to lose at this point, with Chris Taylor and Trayce Thompson available for some reps in center.
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