Nobody in a D’backs uniform this season probably wants to forget last season more than veteran reliever Heath Bell. The hard throwing right-hander had a dismal season for the Miami Marlins and couldn’t get out of South Beach fast enough. Problems with manager Ozzie Gullien, poor performances on the field that led to him losing the closing job and a losing season were enough for Bell to begin thinking about alternatives for his 2013 season.
The D’backs threw Bell a lifeline when they traded for the former closer this off-season. Bell was part of the larger Chris Young-Cliff Pennington deal as the D’backs sent a prospect acquired in that trade (Yordy Cabrera) to Miami in exchange for Bell. Bell’s salary presented some concerns to Arizona, but D’backs General Manager Kevin Towers is a big fan of Bell and was willing to take on his deal to help solidify the bullpen for next season. Bell’s contract calls for $9 million in each of the next two seasons and includes a $9 million club option for 2015. Miami will pay $1.5 million next year, $3.5 million in 2014 and the $3 million deferred signing bonus he is owed.
Saying that Bell struggled is an understatement. When the Marlins signed the former San Diego Padres closer, they believed they were getting a dominant reliever that could intimidate and impose his will on hitters as he had done in Southern California. Bell was a shell of that former All-Star in Miami. He finished with 19 saves in 27 chances and a 5.09 ERA in 73 games. He lost his closing job and could not regain it. He was openly vocal about his relationship with Guillen and the fact that it was difficult for them to co-exist was very evident.
Before last season, Bell was a fantastic reliever. From 2009-2011, he posted three straight seasons with 40+ saves. In those three All-Star seasons, Bell averaged an ERA of 2.36. The hope is that last year was an anomaly and that Bell can revert back to previous form. His fastball still is being clocked in the mid-90’s and late last season, Bell threw his off-speed pitches for strikes with more consistency.
Bell will serve in the set-up role along with another solid reliever, David Hernandez. They will try to get the D’backs through the 7th and 8th innings to get the ball to closer J.J. Putz. It is tough to imagine many better bullpen trios in all of baseball.
According to Towers, Bell is excited about the opportunity to pitch in Phoenix this season. Towers feels that Bell will begin “with a clean slate” and that he is ready to return to his intimidating best. For the Diamondbacks, the significant financial investment in Bell has been met with skepticism by those who feel he is past his prime. I am hoping that Towers has pulled this off and that Bell helps lead one of the deeper bullpens in the majors to helping the D’backs achieve a playoff berth this season.