When we looked at Heath Bell's trade value a couple months ago, we assumed the Padres would be sellers this summer. They didn't appear ready to contend, and Bell – effective and affordable – seemed like a natural trade candidate.
The surprising Padres are 30-20, so they're not about to start handing veterans over for salary relief and prospects just yet. But that doesn't mean Bell will be a Padre at the end of the year. The Padres could consider dealing him this summer, not for top prospects but for major league reinforcements.
The Padres should have some flexibility as the season progresses, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney. The team opened the season with a $38MM payroll, so it would be a surprise to see them add significant salary. This is speculation, but the Padres could decide to deal Bell, who makes $4MM and will earn more through arbitration next year, in exchange for some offense.
Bell has a 1.17 ERA and 14 saves. His walk (2.7 BB/9) and strikeout (11.7 K/9) rates are outstanding. Few teams can afford to deal a reliever like that, but the Padres don't have your average bullpen. As a group, Bud Black's relievers have posted a 2.96 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning. Luke Gregerson, Edward Mujica, Mike Adams and Joe Thatcher have dominated. When active, Tim Stauffer and Adam Russell have been excellent as well.
Other than Adrian Gonzalez, David Eckstein, Nick Hundley and Scott Hairston, the Padres have not been doing much at the plate. As well as they have played, the Padres could use some offense (14th in the NL in runs) and Bell could help them get some. There's no indication that the Padres are thinking of moving their closer, but that's one way the team could find some offense this summer.