The Marlins Sign a Name—Heath Bell

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If any team exemplifies the ability to find someone (anyone) to accumulate the save stat and do a reasonable job as the closer it’s the Florida Marlins.

The Marlins signed Heath Bell to a 3-year, $27 million deal with a vesting option for a fourth year at $9 million; this is more about getting a “name” and “personality” to drum up fan interest than acquiring someone whom they can trust as their ninth inning man for a club that clearly has designs on contending.

To be clearer, the Marlins have an intent on looking like they’re trying to contend.

So it was that they made offers to Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and made a great show in hosting C.J. Wilson.

What the offers were and whether they’re truly competitive enough to snag any of those players is a matter of leaks, ignorant guesswork and storytelling.

The Marlins traded for a feisty and successful “name” manager as well when they acquired Ozzie Guillen from the White Sox.

They’re doing a lot of stuff.

Bell will be at least serviceable as the Marlins closer and probably good. $27 million over 3-years isn’t a ridiculous amount of money, but if the Marlins were still running the team as they did under Jeffrey Loria in the days of saving money and collecting revenue sharing fees while putting forth the pretense of being broke and desperate for a new (publicly financed) stadium, under no circumstances would they have paid Bell.

And that’s the point.

On an annual basis, the Marlins closer was dynamic and interchangeable with a bunch of journeyman names that changed (in more ways than one considering the situation of Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo) and were decent at an affordable price.

Braden Looper, Ugueth Urbina, Armando Benitez, Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Oviedo—all were the Marlins nominal closer at times. Some were very good; some were mediocre; some were bad. But all accrued saves for a team that was on the cusp of contention for much of that time and they did it cheaply. Would the Marlins have had a better chance to make the playoffs had they been trotting Mariano Rivera to the mound to the blistering tune of “Enter Sandman”? They might’ve won a few more games and it might’ve made a difference, but Bell is not Rivera.

This is something the stat people don’t understand when they say “anyone” can get the saves. It’s true, but not accurate in full context.

The 2008 Phillies could’ve found someone to be the closer, but that closer wouldn’t have been as great as Brad Lidge was in the regular season or the playoffs and with them teetering on missing the playoffs entirely, they might not have made it at all without Lidge.

Rivera’s aura says that the game is essentially over upon his arrival; his ice cold ruthlessness behind a pacifist smile and post-season calm provides the Yankees with a not-so-secret weapon; the biggest difference between themselves and their closest competitors during their dynasty was Rivera.

The Phillies could’ve kept Ryan Madson to be the closer and saved a few dollars rather than paying Jonathan Papelbon, but with the way they’re currently built around starting pitching, it made no sense to risk blowing games or overuse those starters because of an untrustworthy closer. Their window to win in within the next 3-4 years and they needed someone with a post-season pedigree and the known ability to handle a high-pressure atmosphere like Philadelphia.

That’s aptly describes Papelbon.

With the Marlins, they have so many other holes to fill that Bell is a nice bauble to acquire; he’ll generate some headlines and send a signal to the rest of baseball and the free agent market that they’re not putting on a show to garner attention, but are legitimately improving. They could’ve done it in a different, cheaper way, but it’s not about Bell and Bell alone—it’s about several things including public relations, media exposure, selling tickets and that aforementioned message to the other free agents to say, “hey look, we’re not doing this just so people talk about us.”

Whether it works and they lure free agents to Florida is another matter; and if they’re going to do that and get Reyes, Wilson, Prince Fielder, Mark Buehrle, Pujols or any combination of the group, they’ll have to write them a check substantially higher than the $27 million they just handed Bell.

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The Heath Bell Free Agency Profile

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Name: Heath Bell.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-34.

Height-6’3″.

Listed weight-260.

Actual weight-probably closer to 275.

Bats: Right.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 MLB Draft and did not sign; signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets in 1998; traded by the Mets to the Padres in November, 2006.

Agent: ACES Agency.

Might he return to the Padres? Bell’s said that he’ll accept arbitration if the Padres offer it, but given the money being tossed around (and possibly being removed from the table) for Ryan Madson, he might rethink that strategy.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Philadelphia Phillies; New York Mets; Los Angeles Dodgers; San Diego Padres.

Positives:

Bell is gregarious and well-liked in his clubhouse; his fastball lost some velocity in 2011 and his strikeout numbers declined with it, but his hits/innings pitched ratios have been consistently good for his entire tenure in San Diego. He throws strikes and doesn’t allow many homers.

Negatives:

He has a big mouth and acts strangely and selfishly at times.

What was the purpose of his mid-season statement that he was going to accept arbitration from the Padres if it was offered? Was he trying to force their hands into either trading him or giving him a contract extension? Was it an innocent bit of honesty that wound up hindering both his situation and that of the Padres?

Why?

Either way, the Padres held onto Bell after entertaining trade offers and new GM Josh Byrnes has said he’s going to offer Bell arbitration.

Bell never got over the way the Mets—the team that signed him as an amateur free agent when no one else wanted him—continually sent him back and forth to Triple A. Bell has a vendetta against the Mets for not giving him a legitimate opportunity.

One problem: the Mets did give him a legitimate opportunity and he pitched poorly in both 2005 and 2006. Some will ramble endlessly about his strikeout-to-innings-pitched ratio. It’s not unimportant, but if you look at the results for Bell with the Mets, they weren’t good. The Mets made an atrocious trade in sending Bell to the Padres for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, but the mistake they made wasn’t in trading Bell, but in what they got in return.

Bell also came sprinting in from the bullpen during the All Star game and slid into the infield grass, kicking up a divot and popping up as he was called on to pitch.

I have no idea why.

The declining strikeout numbers didn’t hinder his results, but he’s 34-years-old; his mechanics aren’t great; he’s overweight; and his velocity is diminished.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $45 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $31 million.

In case you missed it, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro had come to an agreement with Scott Boras, the agent for Ryan Madson, for Madson to stay with the Phillies for 4-years and $44 million with an option for a 5th year at $13 million; apparently, when Amaro sent the contract up to team president David Montgomery for approval, Montgomery—smartly—wanted to think about it.

I went on a tangent in my prior posting about how the Phillies were making a mistake and that they should try to get Jonathan Papelbon instead of spending so capriciously on a relatively neophyte closer in Madson.

Now there’s talk that the Nationals are possibly after Madson. What they would want with Madson is a great mystery since they have Tyler Clippard as the set-up man and Drew Storen as the closer—both are better than Madson.

Bell is three years older, but he too is better than Madson too and the hesitation on the part of the Phillies bosses will also place the entire closer market on hold until someone signs and sets the market.

The Madson-Phillies deal may be done by the time you’re reading this which would put my prior post back into play to an even greater degree because if the Phillies rethought the deal and still signed off on it, it’s even worse than it was originally.

Teams that might sign him: Red Sox; Blue Jays; White Sox; Twins; Rangers; Phillies; Mets; Dodgers; Padres.

If the Red Sox lose Papelbon, they’ll need a closer. The Blue Jays desperately need a reliable reliever. Neftali Feliz might become a starter for the Rangers—they were trying to get Bell in the summer and he’d be in their price range. The Mets regime is different from the one that Bell feels did him wrong.

Would I sign Bell? I would not touch Heath Bell.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If the deal is of the short-term, reasonably priced variety, I guess the signing club will be able to absorb it, but I’d steer clear of Bell. If it’s an amount of dollars close to the reputed Madson contract, it’s going to be a disaster.

Offering arbitration would give the Padres the draft pick if he leaves and other options. If he accepts, I’d trade Bell; the Padres should not sign him to a long-term deal. Luke Gregerson can close just as well, if not better.

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