The Brewers are among the growing list of teams with interest in Nationals first baseman Josh Bell, reports SNY’s Andy Martino. Both Martino and Jeff Passan of ESPN suggest that Bell could be among the first notable names to change hands, perhaps sooner than later. Getting a Bell deal completed in the near future would give Washington general manager Mike Rizzo additional time to focus on the deluge of trade interest he’s receiving in star outfielder Juan Soto.
Milwaukee joins the Mets and Astros as teams known to have interest in Bell, a 29-year-old switch-hitter who’s enjoying a .302/.388/.492 batting line in his final season before reaching free agency. Martino reported yesterday that there has not been substantial momentum in talks between the Mets and the Nationals regarding Bell. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, meanwhile, reports that Bell remains a “priority” for the Astros as they look to upgrade amid Yuli Gurriel’s struggles.
For the Brewers, Bell would serve as both an offensive and defensive upgrade at first base over Rowdy Tellez. Bell has significantly improved as a defensive option at first base in recent years, going from a bottom-five ranked defender to a player who now has slightly above-average ratings at the position. It’s possible that the Brewers’ internal evaluation still favors Tellez, but both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average peg Bell as the better option.
That’s not to say that a Bell acquisition would push Tellez out of a job, but Bell could very well result in Tellez spending more time at designated hitter. A Bell-to-Brewers scenario could prove more worrisome for veteran Andrew McCutchen, who hasn’t performed up to expectations since signing a one-year deal and has uncharacteristically been far worse against left-handed opponents than against righties. Were McCutchen handling lefties as he typically does, a Tellez/McCutchen platoon at DH would appear formidable. That’s not the case, though, as McCutchen’s .230/.281/.402 slash against lefties leaves plenty to be desired.
Bell would give Milwaukee (or any other club) a legitimate middle-of-the-order presence against both lefties and righties. While he’s been better as a left-handed batter (.311/.402/.493), the longtime Pirates slugger has still crushed lefties at a .287/.362/.488 clip this season. Bell had a rough first month of the 2021 season but has generally been outstanding since, hitting at a combined .289/.375/.497 with just a 15.1% strikeout rate and an 11.6% walk rate in his past 920 trips to the plate. Bell hits the ball on the ground more than he should (50.9% in that stretch of 920 PAs), but he’s also seen one in five fly-balls he’s hit during that time leave the yard.
The Nats also figure to have several relievers available, with each of Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan a candidate to change hands prior to next Tuesday’s deadline. It’s conceivable that the Brewers or any other team with interest in Bell might also try to pry a bullpen arm loose, though Bell should have sufficient value to net a notable prospect or two on his own.
Yesterday’s MLB/MLBPA failure to reach an agreement on an international draft means that the qualifying offer system will remain in place, meaning the Nats will need to be convinced that whichever prospect(s) they receive in exchange for Bell would outweigh the value of a value of a compensatory pick in the 2023 amateur draft. Bell has been a bargain on a $10MM salary this season, so it stands to reason that the Nats would have little hesitation in making a qualifying offer in the $19MM range in order to ensure that they receive draft compensation when he departs as a free agent. That’s an unlikely scenario, given trade interest in Bell, but it’s worth noting that yesterday’s outcome played into the favor of the Nats and a few other non-contenders who are peddling rental players that look like obvious QO candidates this offseason.