Ten months later, the ripple effects of Cody Bellinger’s unceremonious split from the Dodgers continue to make waves.
This week, USA Today ran a story about Bellinger, the former National League most valuable player who is enjoying a resurgent season with the Chicago Cubs after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers following two injury-plagued seasons.
The story included a quote from Bellinger’s representative, Scott Boras, in which the agent sounded as if he blamed the Dodgers for Bellinger’s career-worst seasons in 2021 and 2022.
“He was hurt, plain and simple,” Boras said in the piece, referencing the shoulder surgery Belligner had after the 2020 season that was believed to have affected his career-worst performances in the two seasons after.
“He has surgery, and the Dodgers asked him to play with a 35% strength deficiency, and then with COVID, he was deprived of the expert medical treatment,” Boras added in the USA Today story. “He didn’t have the shoulder strength. You don’t just go from a .900 OPS to a .500 OPS without understanding the impact of an injury.
“So, when he became a free agent, Cody told me, ‘I want to go to teams that know me the best, and I want to go where people understand me.’”
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Boras’ comments were perceived by some around the sport — as well as within the Dodgers organization — as a shot at the team.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the club’s president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, offered a blunt response.
“I don’t want to stoop down to that level,” Friedman told The Times. “But I find it to be a very convenient narrative. We weren’t surprised by it at all.”
When reached by phone Wednesday night and told of Friedman’s comments, Boras clarified the quotes he gave to USA Today.
He said there had been “no wrongdoing” by the Dodgers for having Bellinger play in 2021, when the outfielder batted .165 with 10 home runs and 94 strikeouts, and that his client was never pressed into playing when he wasn’t comfortable doing so.
“The Dodgers were not forcing Cody to play,” Boras said. “But Cody is a good teammate. And he wanted to play and go out there, knowing he just had surgery. That was the extent of that. And he had a clear strength deficit because of the surgery. There was no wrongdoing on the Dodgers’ part, because it was mutual that Cody wanted to play and the Dodgers wanted him to play.”
Prior to Boras’ clarification Wednesday, Friedman also noted that the agent’s original comments didn’t mention the Boras Sports Training Institute — the Southern California-based training center frequented by many Boras Corp. clients.
“What I found really interesting was that there was no mention of the Boras Institute and its role in any of this,” Friedman said. “But I’ll just leave it at that.”
When relayed Boras’ clarification on Wednesday night, Friedman declined to comment further.
Once a Dodgers franchise favorite who won a Rookie of the Year award in 2017, the National League MVP in 2019 and a World Series title in 2020, Bellinger’s time in L.A. fizzled after his November 2020 shoulder surgery — which was necessitated after Bellinger infamously got hurt in a celebration with teammate Kiké Hernández that postseason.
After his dismal 2021 campaign, Bellinger rebounded slightly in 2022, batting .210 with 19 home runs and 68 RBIs.
The Dodgers held out optimism the 28-year-old could keep improving in 2023, as well.
“I know he’s working with our guys and doing everything he can to put himself in position to be a real force for us next year,” Friedman said during MLB’s general manager meetings in November.
However, with Bellinger entering his final season of arbitration, the Dodgers were faced with a tricky financial decision just weeks later: Tender the outfielder a contract that would probably pay him more than $18 million, or save the money and allow him to become a free agent.
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The team chose the latter, opening the door for the Cubs to sign Bellinger as a free agent on a one-year, $17.5-million deal.
“I wish we could have done more to support him and get some more consistency for him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said ahead of Bellinger’s Dodger Stadium homecoming in April. “But sometimes you just don’t have any answers.”
Although the Dodgers seem unlikely to pursue Bellinger in free agency this coming winter — when he will be one of the biggest-name bats on the open market, thanks to his .317 batting average, 20 home runs and .901 OPS this year — the team could be involved with other Boras clients.
Most notably, Boras represents pitcher Julio Urías, another face of the Dodgers franchise who will be a free agent in the offseason.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.