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.
UPDATE: Not only are the Rays getting Hanigan from the Reds as their new starting catcher, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that they’re also getting reliever Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade.
Bell has become sort of a punchline in recent years, but he was quietly fairly effective for Arizona with a 4.11 ERA and 72/16 K/BB ratio in 66 innings. He served up too many homers, but the bat-missing and control are certainly enough to think he can give the Rays some solid innings.
Rosenthal says the rest of the three-team swap includes the Diamondbacks getting Single-A right-hander Justin Choate and a player to be named later from the Rays and the Reds getting left-hander David Holmberg–a decent prospect who made his MLB debut in August–from the Diamondbacks. And of course there’s money changing hands to pay for Bell’s salary.
Tampa Bay just re-signed Jose Molina to a two-year, $4.5 million deal, but the Rays aren’t done at catcher. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that they’re acquiring Ryan Hanigan from the Reds.
Hanigan has long been underrated because of his excellent on-base skills, but he hit just .198 in 75 games this year at age 32. However, he posted an on-base percentage above .350 in each of the previous six seasons and Hanigan’s career mark of .359 ranks sixth among all active catchers. He also grades out very well in pitch-framing, which the Rays emphasized in signing Molina in the first place.
He’ll presumably take over as the Rays’ primary backstop, with Molina sliding into more of a true backup role that he filled for so many years before getting a bigger opportunity in Tampa Bay recently. Jose Lobatan, who appeared in 100 games for the Rays this year, is likely now trade bait.
This move signals that Cincinnati is ready to hand the starting job to 25-year-old former top prospect Devin Mesoraco, with free agent pickup Brayan Pena backing him up.
Heath Bell, a Proven Closer, is once again closing:
We now have conclusive evidence that Kirk Gibson is really a Dodgers’ sleeper agent. I mean really, he couldn’t help the Diamondbacks’ opponents win any better if he went back in a time machine to the mid-80s and plugged himself in at right field.
Eh, OK, jokes aside. Putz has problems too. Elbow and ineffectiveness problems. But any team putting Heath Bell into the closer’s role is kinda hard to take seriously as a contender.