The Miami Marlins made a splash in the MLB free agent pool this week by signing former Padres reliever Heath Bell
to a three-year $27 million contract. The deal also includes a $9 million vesting option for a fourth year.
As compensation for Bell, a Type-A free agent, the Padres will receive a compensatory first round pick and a second round pick one slot ahead of the Marlins' spot. Miami will not have to give up a pick.
Bell, the subject of trade rumors throughout most of last season, replaces incumbent Marlins closer Leo Nunez
(now known as Juan Oviedo
) who pitched well in 2011 but missed time due to injury and is currently mired in clearing up the controversy surrounding his false identity. The Nunez issues aside, the Marlins now have a top-tier late inning stopper, a welcome change from the committee who filled in late last year.
The 34 year-old Bell replaced Padres closing great Trevor Hoffman
back in 2009 and has thrived in his three seasons as the team's closer, posting a 2.36 ERA and 132 saves in 202 1/3 innings of work, along with 216 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP. A dip in his 2011 strikeout numbers (he had just 51 whiffs in 62 2/3 innings) and move away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park could present some concern for the future performance of the aging righthander, but he has been notably steady as a late-game option so those concerns may be undeserved.
The Padres, now without both parts of their once dynamic eighth and ninth inning combo of Mike Adams
and Bell, may look to sign a closer but could examine internal options for their closing duties in 2012. Righthanded setup man Luke Gregerson
leads the list of candidates to take the job this year, but 26 year-old Ernesto Frieri
and others may also receive consideration. Fantasy owners looking to get saves out of the Padres staff this season should monitor the competition closely in the spring.
Overall, the signing makes a lot of sense for Miami, a club with a good group of young talent and a dedication toward improving over their mostly miserable 2011 campaign. This deal could be the first of many for a team that is rumored to be in pursuit of several other big name free agents this winter. If Bell pitches to form through his middle and late thirties, he could be a reliable ninth inning factor for a team on the rise.