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.
UPDATE: It’s not often that Ken Rosenthal misfires — he is, in my view, the best at this rumor business — but he misfired here. Almost immediately after his report that the Padres had traded Heath Bell to the Rangers, multiple reports came in that it was not Bell, but rather, Mike Adams who is going to Texas. And the word is now that it is official.
In return the Padres will get prospects Joe Wieland and Robert Erlin. Not a small price, as both of them are great looking prospects. Wieland threw a no-hitter the other day for Double-A Frisco and is 10-3 with a 1.80 ERA and a 132/15 K/BB ratio in 129.2 innings across Single-A and Double-A ball this year. Erlin has a slightly higher ERA but a similar BB/K ratio as Wieland across the same two divisions.
A tall price to pay for a setup guy, but clearly the Rangers are thinking “win now.”
2:29 PM: Padres asleep at the wheel? Nah, they’re just waking up. Pacific time, you know.
We don’t have details yet, but Ken Rosenthal just tweeted that the Texas Rangers have traded for Padres’ closer Heath Bell. Moments before that tweet, it was reported that Bell was called into Bud Black’s office in San Diego.
The Rangers have been talking to the Padres about Bell for some time, but many figured that the interest had died out once they acquired Koji Uehara yesterday. Now they have three relievers in Bell, Uehara and, oh yeah, Neftali Feliz who could close ballgames if need be and, in any event, can shut down hitters in the late innings.
The Rangers have slowly started to pull away in the AL West these past few weeks. Now it looks like they’re making moves to to mount a formidable run in the playoffs.
The Rangers needed a reliever, not a closer, and they got one of the game’s best setup men from the Orioles when they traded Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara and $2 million on Saturday.
Uehara has a 2.27 ERA and a remarkable 117/13 K/BB ratio in 91 innings since the Orioles shifted him to the pen last year. His trick elbow is a concern, but he’s pretty much the perfect eighth-inning guy when healthy.
And if he can stay healthy, he’ll probably pitch better than Heath Bell would have for the Rangers. Uehara won’t be intimidated by Arlington after pitching at Camden Yards the last three years. His ERA+ the last two years is 181. Bell’s is 175 over the same timeframe. Bell has the superior actual ERA at 2.08, but after accounting for league and ballpark, Uehara has been a bit more effective.
The Rangers did give up quite a bit in return here, but it was probably worth it to get an eighth-inning guy, particularly one who has a vesting option for next year at $4 million. And the Orioles did well to get two intriguing pieces for a reliever no one wanted to sign to a multiyear deal last winter.
The 25-year-old Davis seems to have taken a step forward this season after two disappointing years. His .250/.299/.403 line in 72 at-bats for the Rangers isn’t particularly impressive, but it also isn’t bad for someone getting sporadic playing time. He was a true terror in Triple-A, hitting .368/.405/.824 with 23 homers in just 193 at-bats. Davis has always had big problems with strikeouts, but he has improved a bit there this season.
The Rangers soured on Hunter because of his conditioning problems, but he’s a 25-year-old with a career record of 23-13 and a 4.36 ERA in the major leagues. He can slot into the Baltimore rotation immediately and serve as a decent fourth starter going forward.
I don’t usually rate trades as win-wins, but I think it is the case here. The Rangers get an excellent reliever for less than Bell would have cost, and the Orioles got to gamble on some upside. Plus, this frees up Derrek Lee to be used in a deal for Baltimore. Don’t be surprised if he’s shipped to Pittsburgh within the next few hours, allowing the Orioles to put Mark Reynolds at first and Davis at third.
So you know, “substantive talks” are more than just “kicking the tires,” which in turn is more than someone just being “willing to listen.” Anyway.
Ken Rosenthal says that the Rangers are in said “substantive talks” with the Padres for closer Heath Bell. Given that they’ve basically thrown Neftali Feliz under the bus* during his recent struggles, it should not be at all surprising that they may be interested in Bell.
The Rangers could certainly be the front runners here. The Cardinals were interested, but they were apparently offering Colby Rasmus, so that theory is over. The Phillies were interested too, but there has been no activity there in recent days.
*Question for Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington: Now that you believe that Feliz does not have the mentality or intensity or whatever the hell it is you claim he lacks to be a closer, are you prepared to admit that he should have been a starter all along?
The New York Post’s Joel Sherman reports that while the Phillies have been aggressive in pursuing Heath Bell and Mike Adams, the Padres are surprised there hasn’t been more interest from contenders like the Yankees, Reds and Cardinals.
Bell went on ESPN Radio on Sunday and predicted that he’d be traded to the Cardinals, Phillies or Rangers. ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden said later that Bell was the Rangers’ No. 1 trade target.
Since they’re factoring in the cost of missing out on two compensation picks in next year’s draft, the Padres have put a heavy price on Bell’s head. A team isn’t just buying two-plus months of Bell; it’s also getting two possible top-40 picks if he leaves as a free agent.
For that reason, there’s a growing suspicion the Padres might keep Bell and trade Adams instead. Adams could bring a bigger haul since he costs less and he’s under control for 2012. He’s also arguably the superior pitcher; Adams has a 1.20 ERA this year and a 1.33 ERA in 148 2/3 innings since the beginning of 2009. Bell is at 2.45 this season and 2.35 in 180 innings over the last three seasons.
The Padres will almost certainly deal one of the two before Sunday’s deadline. Don’t be too surprised if Bell ends up staying and Adams makes his way to Philadelphia or Texas.