Once the dust settled at 4 p.m. ET yesterday, the natural assumption was that the Padres would let Heath Bell walk via free agency and take the two draft picks if they are unable to work out a team-friendly contract extension. Well, it may not work out that way.
Bell told Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier today that he would accept arbitration if he is unable to come to an agreement with the Padres.
“If I don’t have a multi-year deal and they offer me arbitration, I will accept arbitration,” Bell said. “My wife (Nicole) and I talked about all the scenarios last night.
“There is no downside to me accepting arbitration and the family staying in San Diego for at least another year. My kids love it here. My family is happy here. And I’m in a position where I can make some decisions right now.
“The ball is in my court. I want to stay in San Diego. And I want to win here.”
Bell, who turns 34 in September, is making $7.5 million this season and would presumably fetch eight figures through the arbitration process. He told Center that he is looking for a three-year contract in the range of $27 million while the Padres are only willing to offer two years with an option for a third year.
While this sounds like a tricky scenario for a team that likely won’t be on the brink of contention any time soon, Padres owner Jeff Moorad told XX1090 in San Diego (via Dan Hayes of the North County Times) that they actually wouldn’t mind if Bell accepts arbitration.
“In some ways [it’s] even preferable from our point of view … We certainly don’t mind going to year-to-year, though we are willing to guarantee a couple of years with him.”
Bell has a 2.28 ERA, 30 saves in 32 chances and a 33/16 K/BB ratio over 43 1/3 innings this season. He projects to be a Type A free agent this winter.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.