Scouting The Trade Market: Heath Bell


(Photo Credit: Flickr user SD Dirk via Creative Commons license)

Although Rafael Soriano is expected back from his elbow injury reasonably soon (he’s eligible to come off the disabled list shortly after the All-Star break), Joba Chamberlain‘s injury leaves a rather sizable hole in the back of the Yankees’ bullpen. David Robertson has stepped up and performed better than expected, but there’s no such thing as too many quality bullpen arms.

One quality bullpen arm that will almost certainly be available this summer is Heath Bell of the Padres, a team that is eleven games back in the loss column of the top spot in the NL West and ten games back of the wildcard. They’ve won four of their last five games but lost six in a row and nine of ten immediately prior to that. San Diego also sports one of the very worst offenses in baseball (.291 wOBA) and they don’t exactly have the wherewithal (or motivation, given their deficit) to go out at the deadline and add the bat or three they need to contend. Let’s break down the good and the bad…

The Pros

  • With no significant platoon split and a four-plus year track record of excellence (2.59 FIP from 2007-2010), Bell is about as safe as relievers come. He misses bats with a 92-95 mph fastball, low-80′s curveball combination, and has been very consistent when it comes to his walk rate (between 3.10 and 3.60 BB/9 from 2007-2010) and ground ball rate (44% to 48% over those four years) since getting to San Diego.
  • He’s not just a product of spacious Petco Park, for those wondering. Since the start of the 2009 season, Bell has held opponents to a .220/.301/.289 batting line at home and .211/.273/.268 on the road. Of the four homers he’s given up in that time, three have actually come in Petco.
  • Bell is very durable, having never visited the disabled list in his big league career and throwing no fewer than 69.2 IP in any season since getting to San Diego. His fastball velocity is holding up fine as well. I guess 6-foot-3, 260 lb. right-handers are built for innings.
  • He’s done it all for the Padres. Bell started out as a low leverage middle relief guy before working his way into Trevor Hoffman’s top setup man, then he took over for the likely Hall of Famer three years ago. I’m not sure the whole “he needs to get used to not having the adrenaline rush of the ninth inning” argument would hold water here.
  • Bell is just a rental and won’t eat up 2012 payroll. He projects to be a Type-A free agent (rather comfortably) at the moment, so he could bring two draft picks after the season.

The Cons

  • Bell’s strikeouts are down considerably this year. After whiffing 11.06 batters per nine innings last year (10.21 K/9 in 2010), he’s dropped down to just 6.97 K/9 this year. His swing-and-miss rate is still above average at 9.1%, but that is down from double digits in the last few years.
  • He doesn’t have any traditional playoff experience, the closest thing is 2.2 IP in Game 163 against the Rockies back in 2007. Bell did pitch in each of the Padres’ last four games last season (and in six of their final ten), which were essentially playoff games as they tried to hold off the Giants. I don’t put much stock into this stuff, but some October experience is better than none.
  • Bell is not cheap, at least not on the reliever pay scale. His $7.5M salary this year is broken down into $1.25M per month, give or take a few hundred thousand.

The Yankees could use one more late game reliever and Bell is as good as they come, but I can’t help feel like the cost will greatly outweigh the production. Some similar (and recent) trades that come to mind include Eric Gagne (Rangers to Red Sox), Matt Capps, and Brandon League, though none of them are perfect comparisons. Gagne was the only other rental, plus Bell was straight up better than all three of those guys. Regardless, they all required at least one premium piece going the other way, and I can’t see why the Padres would expect something less for what amounts to the best reliever in the National League over the last four or so seasons.

Ken Davidoff reported yesterday that the Yankees have called the Padres to discuss Bell’s availability, but they haven’t been as aggressive as some other clubs. That sounds like due diligence more than anything. Another bullpen arm would certainly be a welcome addition, especially one of Bell’s caliber, but the Yankees have bigger fish to fry at the trade deadline, namely a starter that can legitimately pass for a number two. Bell’s just a luxury at the moment.

Categories : Trade Deadline


  1. Is that Heath Bell in that photograph, or Larry the Cable Guy?

  2. Guest says:

    Between Robertson dominance and Soriano/Feliciano’s impending returns, I don’t think it makes sense for the Yanks to go toooo overboard for another set-up guy. Now, if they can make a trade where they give up little in talent in order to take on cash (a la Wood), then great.

    But I don’t think a middle reliever is a place where they need to cash in any meaningful prospect chips.

    So if they can get Bell for next to nothing other than taking on his salary, awesome. If not, pass.

  3. Smallz says:

    If Heath Bell is a free agent next year, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU GO SIGN RAFEAL SORIANO FOR 3 YEARS??? *big facepalm*

  4. Frank says:

    That photo bears a striking resemblance to Kevin Youkilis.

    • Cris Pengiuci says:

      But he’d need to scrap the beard when joining the Yankees, so the resemblance goes away (thankfully).

  5. T-Dubs says:

    Given the relative cost of prospects, I think I’d rather roll the dice on K-Rod for 3 months and take the salary hit.

    • All kinds of that. There will probably be far fewer suitors for KRod than for Bell, which should lower the prospect cost to us.

      • T-Dubs says:

        And the 28 other teams will know that the Mets will be willing to eat salary but the Yankees don’t need them to. Theoretically lowering the prospect cost for the Yankees in relation to those with less payroll flexibility.

        • CountryClub says:

          Be careful about eating salary. The Yanks have had teams eat money the past couple of years (Hinske & Wood come to mind).

          • T-Dubs says:

            Sure. Whenever possible they should have other clubs eat salary. If it came down to an equal offer of prospects though, I’d hope the Yankees would use their financial advantage.

      • CountryClub says:

        Plus he wont be closing for the Yanks, so that ridiculous club option wont kick in. He would be closing for most other teams and that option will scare away some of them.

    • Hugh Jasole says:

      K-Rod’s likely to vest. He’d make a VERY expensive extra piece in the pen next year.

  6. Mike R. - Retire 21 says:

    What was the last trade for a big time reliever that actually worked? It seems, to me at least, that trading for relievers is almost as bad as signing them to long term big money deals.

  7. Jorge says:

    If the price is anything more than the equivalent of what we gave up for Kerry Wood last year (which would be, what, DJ Mitchell? Or do we consider Z-Mac better than that?), then I’d say “no.”

    I greatly regret missing the epic Brian Gordon thread.

  8. CMP says:

    I’d rather have K-Rod for the rest of the season only because he should cost must less in prospects

    The Mets are going to have to either give him away to a team that’s willing to pay about $6 million for a half season year plus a $3.5 million buyout just to be a setup man since he’s not that far away from vesting his obscene $17.5 million option for next year. The other option is to move him out of the closer role in aanother 5-6 weeks because there is just no way they can keep him around next year for that salary.

    • Clay Bellinger says:

      “The other option is to move him out of the closer role in aanother 5-6 weeks because there is just no way they can keep him around next year for that salary.”

      That option would end so badly.

  9. David, Jr. says:

    What would it cost?

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      They’ll ask for Montero. Levine will be very tempted.

    • Guest says:

      I appreciate that this is likely snark.

      If they trade Jesus Montero for a middle reliever rental (as good as Bell is, that’s what he would be for the Yanks), I would *insert hyperpobolic overreaction here*

  10. JohnC says:

    Rather have Kerry Wood back

  11. Enoch44 says:

    You all seem to have forgotten that, due to the insane, unbelievable haul that Hoyer got from Epstein for Adrian Gonzalez, Health Bell is to be traded to Boston for Marco Scuttaro.

  12. Ted Nelson says:

    I think that all 5-11 190 lb guys are built to pitch heavy work-loads because Pedro, Glavine, Mo, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford all did it. Obviously body type has everything to do with the strength of your arm tendons.

  13. Jed Hoyer says:

    Do you really think I would trade with the Yankees?

Leave a Reply

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.

If this is your first time commenting on River Ave. Blues, please review the RAB Commenter Guidelines. Login for commenting features. Register for RAB.