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Heath Bell on time with D-Backs: “I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream”

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Since leaving the spacious confines of Petco Park as the closer for the Padres, Heath Bell has had a tough time. Going into the 2012 season, Bell signed a three-year, $27 million contract. He struggled all year, eventually getting moved out of the ninth inning by then-manager Ozzie Guillen. Bell finished with a 5.09 ERA in 63 2/3 innings. The Marlins traded him to the Diamondbacks after the season. Bell continued to struggle and was used infrequently in save situations. He finished with a 4.11 ERA in 65 2/3 innings.

Now a Ray, coming over in a three-team trade that also involved the Reds, Bell is happy to contribute to a contender. He won’t close — that job presently belongs to Grant Balfour — but hopes the Rays will let him pitch the way he likes to pitch. Bell reflected on his time in Arizona, saying that he “always felt like [he] was trying to swim upstream”. Via Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com:

“My pitching style is a little different than most pitchers and most closers,” Bell said. “I wanted to go out there and pitch my style. We didn’t really see eye to eye after awhile. I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream. I try to mix up my pitches. Closers usually come in and pound the strike zone with fastballs. I have a good fastball, but not one that I can just blow by anybody.

“I like to go in and out, use both sides of the plate. I felt like they wanted me to go in a lot more. My style was more away, but I was trying to do their style. It was just tough. When the catcher and the pitcher really don’t see eye to eye it’s hard to go out there and have a really good game. They wanted me to pitch in a way I’d never pitched before.”

Bell, 36, can become a free agent after the season if his 2015 option doesn’t vest at $9 million. In order for that to happen, Bell would need to finish 55 games this season, which seems unlikely to happen. This is an important season for him as it may preface his final opportunity to sign a seven-figure contract.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.