How Yankees can fix offense for 2024, including making Cody Bellinger their top target

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Cody Bellinger

In some ways, the Jasson Dominguez elbow injury, untimely as it was after the rookie outfielder’s impressive start to his big league career, brings added clarity to the question of how the Yankees should go about fixing their dreadful offense:

Sign Cody Bellinger.

It’s an obvious answer, considering that Bellinger fits perfectly as a difference-making, left-handed hitter who plays a solid center field, as well as first base, and has bounced back to his MVP-caliber form with the Chicago Cubs after two subpar seasons that he says were related to a shoulder injury.

A less obvious complement to Bellinger just might be Tommy Pham, the veteran corner outfielder who had a surprisingly impressive season for the Mets this year before being dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline.

In fact, two scouts I spoke to said they are convinced that Pham’s season at age 35 is no fluke, based on how consistently hard he has hit the ball this year, an observation that is backed up by various analytic numbers, and how his improved eyesight was a factor.

More on that to come, but at best Pham on a one-year deal would be a secondary move. Bellinger is the only difference-maker that makes sense for the Yankees, especially since they are locked in at key positions because of big contracts.

The only real argument against Bellinger, in fact, is if you think the Yankees would be better off waiting a year and spending even bigger on Juan Soto.

And there’s a case to be made for doing that, since Soto is three years younger and will be going into his age-26 season in 2025, coming out of free agency. Bellinger is still young as well, as free agents go, turning 29 next July, but it’s also fair to wonder if his surgically repaired shoulder could become an issue again in the coming years.

Still, the majority opinion of talent evaluators I spoke to this week is that the Yankees should sign Bellinger, in part because of the value he brings as a center fielder, in addition to his revitalized bat, and in part because the Yankees are on the clock.

That is, with Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge perhaps already pushing the limits of their prime years, the Yankees can’t go another season of having two of the best players in baseball without being all-in to win a championship.

“Most of their players are all in their 30s so they have to be going for it,” one team exec said, referring not only to Cole and Judge but others such as Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Carlos Rodon. “They had a really bad offensive year but Bellinger could make a big difference, assuming (Anthony) Volpe takes a step forward and Rizzo is back to normal (from his concussion).

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot else they can do. I don’t think they can trade Stanton, especially with his no-trade clause, even though they might like to have that DH spot for Dominguez when he comes back (from elbow surgery). And Bellinger is athletic enough that I’d trust he’ll age well into his 30s, as long as the shoulder is okay.”

That shoulder is partly the reason that one of four scouts/execs I spoke with said he thinks the Yankees would be smarter to wait on Soto’s free agency.

“I just think it’s the safer play, when you’re talking about a huge amount of money,” the exec said. “Soto has been durable and it’s possible he hasn’t even reached his full potential.

“Also, it could be tricky with Bellinger. He’s having a big year after two down seasons, and maybe it took that much time for his shoulder injury to heal, but are you sure he’ll hit at this level for the next several years? He’s young enough that if you’re the Yankees you’ll probably have to overpay to get him and hope this is who he is now. I don’t think it’s a bad gamble, especially with the positional value. I just think Soto is more of a sure thing.”

There is always the possibility the Yankees could trade for Soto this winter, yet even though he’s only a year from free agency, the scouts/execs predicted it would take a significant package of prospects/major leaguers for the San Diego Padres to deal him.

“If I’m the Yankees, I’m not giving up assets for one year of Soto when I could wait or sign Bellinger,” said one exec.

Soto would cost more but Bellinger is going to be plenty expensive as well. At least partly because there will be little elite offensive talent on the market this winter, evaluators predicted he’ll get a megadeal worth more than $200 million over seven or eight years.

“I’m sure the Yankees would rather not add another one of those long-term contracts to what they already have,” said a second exec. “But I would think they’re backed into a corner with the way their year has played out.

“Maybe if Dominguez had continued to hit home runs they could have sold the youth movement for next year, but his injury doesn’t leave them much choice. They have to do something and Bellinger is the guy.”

As of Thursday, Bellinger was hitting .316 with 25 home runs and a .903 OPS, resembling the player who won the 2019 NL MVP Award with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a long way from the last two years in which he hit .165 and .210, respectively, with little power after undergoing surgery for a dislocated right shoulder.

“The shoulder still scares me a little because it took him so long to regain full strength and range of motion,” said one scout. “All things being equal, I’d take Soto over Bellinger but I think if you’re the Yankees you have to take the chance that Bellinger will stay healthy rather than wait another year.

“He fits them so well. He has great value as a center fielder and he’s exactly what they need offensively, too — a high batting average guy with power.”

Even if they have Bellinger in center, though, the Yankees would still be looking for an upgrade in left field, where they have needed more offense all season.

As a relatively low-cost player, Pham could be a good option. As the scouts pointed out, it’s not just that he bounced back after a couple of down seasons, but apparently did so — at least partly — because of better vision.

For years, Pham has had an eye condition known as keratoconus, a thinning of the cornea that affects vision, and after an eye doctor changed his lenses last offseason Pham said he was seeing the baseball much more clearly in spring training and it carried over to the season.

The result has been his best production since .2019. As of Thursday, Pham was hitting .266 with 16 home runs and an OPS of .802. Furthermore, his Statcast numbers indicate he’s even been a bit unlucky, considering that he’s in the 90th percentile or higher in average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and expected batting average.

“He’s hit the ball hard all season,” said one scout, “and he’s got a lot of life in his legs so I wouldn’t be worried about the age on a one-year deal. He’d give the Yankees a solid contact hitter, which they could use, and if he’s their secondary signing after somebody like Bellinger, that’s a nice upgrade for their offense.”

How badly do they need such an upgrade? As of Thursday, the Yankees and their team batting average of .225 was tied with the Oakland A’s for dead last in the majors.

Obviously they’re going to need better health and production from some of the likes of Rizzo, Stanton, and others, but they need a transfusion of impactful offense. And while Dominguez might be back soon enough to provide it at some point next year, hope isn’t going to put them back on a championship level.

Adding Bellinger will at least give them a chance.

EMEA Tribune is not involved in this news article, it is taken from our partners and or from the News Agencies. Copyright and Credit go to the News Agencies, email [email protected]

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