The last time a team traded Heath Bell, they ended up regretting it, but the 2006 deal that sent Bell and Royce Ring from the Mets to the Padres for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson hasn't prevented the 33-year-old closer from appearing in a near-constant stream of trade rumors.
We checked in on Bell’s trade value before the 2010 season started and again last May. The rumors continued throughout the summer and restarted last offseason, when a deal seemed distinctly possible. Now that the Padres are off to a 19-29 start, the rumors have started once again.
The Rangers and a number of other teams have inquired on Bell, so let’s take stock of his trade value yet again (though the Padres are just listening at this point). He can still pitch, though he’s succeeding with a different method this year. Bell has a 2.12 ERA with nine saves and though his strikeout rate has dropped to 6.4 K/9, his ground ball rate is up to 54.9%. His fastball checks in at an impressive 93.4 mph.
Demand for a pitcher with numbers like that figures to be strong, especially since Bell has a track record of All-Star level production. A number of contenders - the Angels, Rangers, Tigers and Cardinals, for example - could use relief help and may have interest in Bell. Consider that few teams appear ready to sell and his value only increases.
Bell makes $7.5MM this year and hits free agency after the season, which will limit his value to an extent. Not every team has a few million kicking around for a mid-summer acquisition, especially one who’s on the brink of free agency.
Bell should net his team a pair of high draft picks in 2012, which increases his trade value. He was first among all NL relievers in last year’s Elias rankings and though this year’s rankings have yet to be determined, another stellar season figures to place Bell in Type A territory. That means the Padres or any other team would be able to obtain two picks by offering arbitration, assuming Bell turns it down.
Though Bell could technically accept arbitration and take a one-year deal for $10MM or so, that seems highly unlikely. He said while discussing an extension this spring that his “biggest thing is that [he’d] like three years." And he has surely noticed that teams are willing to part with draft picks for top relievers. Clubs grumble about it, but they have surrendered draft choices to sign Scott Downs, Grant Balfour, Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde, Mike Gonzalez, Billy Wagner, Juan Cruz, Brian Fuentes and Francisco Rodriguez over the course of the past three offseasons.
If the Padres don’t like the offers they receive, they can sit back, offer Bell arbitration and obtain a pair of high picks in 2012. Given Bell’s history of production, his 2011 success and the number of contenders with bullpen issues, the Padres may not have to wait a year to cash in on Bell. I won’t be surprised if some team offers the Padres a top prospect for their closer this summer in spite of his generous salary.