Scouting The Trade Market: Heath Bell

The above-average Jorge Posada
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(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.

The above-average Jorge Posada
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  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

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

    • Ivan

      Git er Done!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Jim

        With the Brewers in town, what are the odds they bring back the just released ‘SERGE’?

  • Guest

    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.

    • Adam B.

      I agree, make smaller moves for the bullpen, hold onto your prospects.

  • Smallz

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

    • Ivan

      Why even sign releivers to expensive contracts anyway. Whether it’s soriano or Bell, signing relievers to big contracts to me is just too risky.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Because then isn’t now?

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Followup: Because Soriano is younger and better?

        • Mike Axisa

          Younger, yes, but not better. Bell has had three seasons equal to or better than Soriano’s best season.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            Entering this season:

            Heath Bell, San Diego (2007-2010): 290 G, 311.1 IP, 2.54/2.59/3.11 E/F/x, 151 ERA+, 9.77 K/9, 3.18 BB/9, 0.35 HR/9, 1.111 WHIP

            Rafael Soriano, ATL and TBR (2007-2010): 226 G, 224 IP, 2.61/3.22/3.47 E/F/x, 159 ERA+, 9.84 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9, 0.929 WHIP

            It’s pretty close. Bell limits homers more and thus has a shinier FIP, but Soriano limits baserunners a bit more and has a better K/BB.

            I guess I’d take Bell over him on health reasons (you’ve gotta love all those extra innings Bell’s racked up), but I don’t think it’s incorrect to say Soriano’s pitched better than Bell has (when healthy).

            • radnom

              It’s pretty close. Bell limits homers more and thus has a shinier FIP, but Soriano limits baserunners a bit more and has a better K/BB.

              Considering Bells numbers are in Petco in the NL West and Soriano vs the AL Beast, I think Soriano has a decided performance advantage. The health concerns make it close though, I think I’d still prefer the upside of Soriano considering Bell is probably nearing a decline. If I were a fan of any other team besides the Yankees, I’d definitely prefer Bell.

              • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                Only one of those years is in the AL Beast, though. Three of those four Soriano years are in Atlanta.

                • radnom

                  True, good point, and the AL/NL difference isn’t as big for closers (since they almost never face opposing pitchers). I was focused more on the fact that Bell’s key advantage was his HR rate while pitching in San Diego.

                  But the fact that one of his best seasons (and most recent) came in the AL East affects things as well, in my mind.

                  • mattdamonwayans

                    Probably worth noting that Bell also pitched 87 more innings in that time span because Soriano missed time due to injury.

                    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                      As we noted, yes.

            • Ted Nelson

              But Rafael Soriano is the worst pitcher ever and is always hurt… how that that be true?

        • Steve H

          Also, because Soriano was willing to sign as a setup man.

  • Frank

    That photo bears a striking resemblance to Kevin Youkilis.

    • Cris Pengiuci

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

  • T-Dubs

    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.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      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

        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

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

          • T-Dubs

            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

        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

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

  • Mike R. – Retire 21

    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.

    • Tampa Yankee

      What was the last trade for a big time reliever that actually worked?
      Depends on your definition of “big time” but… Wood last year?

    • Clay Bellinger

      I guess he’s not big time anymore, but Kerry Wood panned out nicely.

      • nsalem

        Luis Arroyo 1960

        • Kosmo

          Pedro Ramos 1964

    • jsbrendog

      john wetteland?

  • Jorge

    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.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Brick killed a guy.

      • Jorge

        I’d lay low for a while.

        • Tampa Yankee

          That escalated quickly

    • Ted Nelson

      McAllister was traded for Kearns, not Wood. Matt Cusick and Andrew Shive were traded for Wood.

      • Jorge

        Thanks. My bad on that.

        • Ted Nelson

          No problem. The thing is that Wood was pitching like crap when the Yankees got him, so Indians were giving him away. The Yankees pro scouts hit a HR with Wood and/or they got lucky. Padres have a lot more leverage with a premium reliever like Bell.

  • CMP

    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

      “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.

  • David, Jr.

    What would it cost?

    • JobaWockeeZ

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

    • Guest

      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*

      • Guest

        Reply fail. Should have been in reply to JobaWockeeZ.

  • JohnC

    Rather have Kerry Wood back

  • Enoch44

    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.

    • gargoyle

      This. Stay away from Jed Hoyer.

  • Ted Nelson

    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.

  • Jed Hoyer

    Do you really think I would trade with the Yankees?