In theory, Cody Bellinger is an All-Star in his prime. He is a 28-year-old former MVP with Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger under his belt. The first line of his CV is undeniable.

It was also written five years ago.

However, in a free agent market that is relatively light in terms of offensive impact, Bellinger is AthleticismThe highest ranked player other than Shohei Ohtani. He’s coming off a bounce-back season with the Chicago Cubs, but he’s not far from being one of the least productive players in the game. Over the past five years, Bellinger has gone from MVP status to reclamation project to the top of the free agent market, and potential bidders will be forced to decide which release to expect going forward.

“Any projection system that you look at is going to kind of assume a certain level for next season and then have a pretty gradual trend over time,” San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told about players in general, not Bellinger. especially. “But we know that in reality it looks very different from that. So I don’t really have an answer. This is a difficult question.

This is one of the most important questions of the offseason.

Best players at the free agent position

Player Position General classification Projection

Cody Bellinger

CF, 1B


6/162 million dollars

Matt Chapman



5/95 million dollars

Rhys Hoskins



1/16.5 million dollars

Jeimer Candelario

3B, 1B


4/70 million dollars

Lee Jung-hoo



4/56 million dollars

Jorge Soler



3/45 million dollars

Teoscar Hernández



4/80 million dollars

Mitch Garver



2/33 million dollars

J.D. Martinez



1/14 million dollars

This free agent market has a number of relatively reliable starting pitchers, and pitchers tend to be easier to objectively measure than hitters. Velocity, spin and location are considered quality indicators of future performance, and it’s easier to look past the noise of an inflated or deflated ERA to adhere to the raw elements and underlying data.

Position players can be a little more difficult to analyze, and this market is full of difficult cases. Ohtani is recovering from Tommy John surgery and Rhys Hoskins missed last season with a torn ACL. However, they are two of the three best players in the rankings. AthleticismBig Board’s free agent tracker. Among other highlights: Bellinger’s recent seasons have been a roller coaster, Matt Chapman underperformed offensively for much of last year, Jeimer Candelario was not selected last winter but had a year Solid 2023, Mitch Garver, Jorge Soler, Brandon Belt, Tommy Pham and Jason. Heyward is also coming off strong bounce-back seasons, and the best infielder on the market, Tim Anderson, is coming off the worst offensive season of his career after back-to-back All-Star appearances the previous two years.

Rhys Hoskins has a solid track record but has just undergone knee surgery. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

Choose wisely, executives, because it will take multi-year contracts worth more than $100 million to sign some of these guys.

“Even at the major league level, where you think you know the best players, trying to figure out what they’re going to be the next year is still very difficult,” Tampa Bay Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. “There are a lot of humbling lessons along the way.”

Modern player analytics is designed to filter out misleading statistics and get to the root of actual performance, but even that leaves room for interpretation and personal preference. Zack Scott, a longtime Boston Red Sox executive, former interim general manager of the New York Mets and current CEO of Four Rings Sports Solutions, said teams will generally weigh most heavily on the team’s most recent performance. a player. A good year in 2023 will mean more than a bad year in 2022 and vice versa – players really do get better or worse from year to year – but that comes with a caveat.

“(Teams) have better tools than they did five or 10 years ago to at least get a sense of what their adjusted performance tells you about their true talent level,” Scott said. “Because that’s what everyone is trying to achieve.”

In Bellinger’s case, his OPS went from .654 in 2022 to .881 in 2023. That’s surface-level analysis. Beyond that, his swing-and-miss has improved significantly, as has his expected performance based on quality of contact, but his barrel percentage and hard hit percentage actually declined last year. His Statcast numbers were better than his terrible 2021, but still not as good as his elite 2019. Teams will have to figure out what to make of them, and their internal analysis will go well beyond these publicly available metrics.

Not only do organizations have their own proprietary player analysis systems, but many have also invested in expensive biomechanical technology capable of breaking down the why, how and frequency of a player’s most productive swings . They can analyze not only swing decisions, but also swing trajectory and mechanics. The more granular a team can become, the more confident it can be about the sustainability of a rebound or the potential for correcting a disappointment.

“There are some things that will be easier to adjust than others,” Scott said. “And organizations all have their different philosophies on what that is. Their hitting programs may have a philosophy such as “We’ve had a lot of success being able to change that in a player.” … It should be a collaborative process where you look at all these things together to build a picture of what it’s going to be like.

When Scott started in the industry 20 years ago, he said, free will involved a lot more guesswork. Statistics from this era explained well what had happened in the past, but often poorly predicted what might happen in the future. Modern analytics involves models built on objective data, and computers are better than humans at performing such complex calculations, but many teams still value subjective opinion.

“That’s where scouting comes in, right? » said Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins. “We cannot live solely on projections. You can’t just live by what historical statistics mean and how you project them (into the future). You have to have a reason to believe that something is real or not, and that’s where very thorough assessments make the difference.

Of course, none of this is foolproof. Players are not computers and games are not models. Each contract represents a risk and each team assesses this risk differently.

“I think you just have to try to do your best to figure out what matters,” Neander said. “What has the most staying power when you’re assessing someone’s abilities and how they’re made up, and just trying to do your best in that area and trying to sift through the noise and focus about what is most important to you and your club.”

Once the analysis is complete, offers are put on the table, contracts are signed and players take the field.

“At some point,” Scott said, “it’s a leap of faith.”

(Bellinger top photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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