It seems the winds that kicked up across the West yesterday have swept Heath Bell all the way East. According to an ESPN.com report, Heath Bell has agreed in principal to a deal with the Miami Marlins for three-years worth $9 million a year. The deal hinges on Bell passing a physical. Padres.com is also reporting the news.
Bell will no longer be a Padre, and it’s bitter sweet. The timing couldn’t have been any better for the Padres who head into Winter Meetings next week, but Padres fans will miss Bell’s dominance, antics, love of the game, and love of San Diego. The deal frees up about $7.5 million of salary for the 2012 season. It also grants the club two draft picks just ahead of the Marlins in next year’s draft.
While the deal will mean more freedom to pursue free agents and trades, let’s first focus on Bell’s time in San Diego. Bell was traded to the Padres in 2006 for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. The change of scenery seemed to have done him well. In three years with the Mets, Bell’s ERA hovered just below 5. In his first season with San Diego, where he quickly became Trevor Hoffman‘s set-up man, Bell posted a 2.02 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 93.2 innings pitched. Bell finishes his career in San Diego with a 2.53 ERA, 389 strikeouts, 134 saves, and three straight All-Star appearances.
Bell was the perfect replacement for the beloved Trevor Hoffman who chose to extend his career in Milwaukee. Taking over for a future Hall of Famer can be a daunting task, but Bell handled it with poise and determination. In 2009, Bell’s first year as the Padres new closer, he saved 42 games, had just a 2.71 ERA, and struck out 79 batters in 70 innings. Bell is the only closer in baseball to post over 40 saves in each of the past three seasons.
Off the field, Bell fell in love with San Diego. Bell offered the Padres a discount over his fair market value to return to San Diego, he waited as long as possible before making a free agency decision in hopes of finding a way to return to America’s Finest City, and he has done nothing but help the city and the team. For it, the fans love him.
Bell will be missed in San Diego, but this was the best possible outcome for the Padres. Closers are not a dime-a-dozen, but they can be developed. The Padres consistently have one of the game’s best bullpens. They have one of the best farm systems. They have options. Right now, it’s still too early to tell which direction the club will go at closer, but I hope to examine that in more detail when we get to Closer in the Position Analysis series. Regardless of who becomes the team’s closer, Bell’s signing with the Marlins opens the team up this winter.
There are several positions that need to be addressed during the off-season including the corner outfield spots, second base, and shortstop. The ball is now in Josh Byrnes’ court. It’s up to him to make the moves that helps the Padres both next season an long-term.
In a perfect world, the Padres would have kept Heath Bell, traded Orlando Hudson, signed a big free agent outfielder, and picked up some starting pitching, but this isn’t a perfect world. It’s San Diego.
Chicken Friars wishes Heath Bell the best in Miami and I’m sure the fans in San Diego do as well.