Heath Bell would accept arbitration if he doesn’t get a contract extension from the Padres

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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.

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

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Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.