Dodgers try to reach arbitration agreements with Cody Bellinger and others at deadline

The Dodgers reached agreements on 2020 contracts with pitchers Ross Stripling ($2.1 million) and Julio Urias ($1 million) but were still negotiating with sluggers Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Max Muncy as Friday’s afternoon deadline approached to exchange salary figures in arbitration.

Bellinger, the 2019 National League most valuable player, is expected to seek a salary that would break Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant’s record for first-year arbitration of $10.85 million, set in 2018.

Pederson, in his third and final year of arbitration, will look for a bump from his 2019 salary of $5 million after hitting 36 homers last season. Seager, in his second year of arbitration, will seek a raise from the $4 million he made in 2019.

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.

The Dodgers have not gone to an arbitration hearing in 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 secure contract agreements and avoid arbitration.

But that streak likely will end if he can’t reach agreements with the team’s seven remaining arbitration-eligible players, including utility men Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor and reliever Pedro Baez. Catcher Austin Barnes ($1.1 million) and reliever Scott Alexander ($875,000) agreed to earlier deals, avoiding arbitration.

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League most valuable player, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $27-million deal on Friday, breaking Colorado Rockies 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 year.

An arbitration hearing would have no bearing on Bellinger’s status with the Dodgers; under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, which expires after 2021, Bellinger remains under club control for three more seasons.

But 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.

Bellinger and the Dodgers couldn’t reach agreement on a 2019 deal, and the team renewed the slugger’s contract for $605,000. The left-handed-hitting Bellinger and his agent, Scott Boras, will have plenty of ammunition if they go to an arbitration hearing next month.

Bellinger, 24, hit .305 with a 1.035 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 47 homers — the third-highest single-season total in franchise history — 34 doubles, 115 RBIs, 121 runs, 95 walks and just 108 strikeouts to lead the Dodgers to their seventh straight NL West title and win his first MVP award.

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 had a monster first half in 2019, hitting .336 with a 1.124 OPS, 30 homers and 71 RBIs in 88 games. He played superb defense at three positions — right field, center field and first base — and won a Gold Glove Award as an outfielder.

He 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 to complete a rally killing double play in a 9-5 win over the New York Mets on May 27.

The Dodgers would likely point to a noticeable dip in second-half production, when Bellinger hit .263 with a .917 OPS, 17 homers and 44 RBIs in 66 games, and a quiet postseason, when he hit .211 with zero homers, zero RBIs, three strikeouts and two walks in a five-game NL division series loss to the Washington Nationals.

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