Reaction from Padres fans that Heath Bell was not traded at the deadline is startling. Comments range from insults to Jed Hoyer to simple questions about what the Padres will get in return if Bell and the Padres go to arbitration for the 2012 season.
The reaction is troubling for many reasons. First, Heath Bell has made it abundantly clear he would love to stay in San Diego. He has already indicated he would take less money to sign a long-term deal. Obviously, he is not going to take an insult of a contract, but he is not demanding to be the top-paid closer in the game. He’s not even demanding to be one of the top-five paid closers in the game, even though he clearly ranks in that category.
In 2009, Heath Bell ranked 4th in MLB with 42 saves. In 2010 he ranked 2nd with 47, one behind Brian Wilson. So far in 2011, Bell ranks 3rd, and he is only two saves behind the top spot. Since Trevor Hoffman’s departure and Bell’s long-overdue promotion to the closer role, he ranks second among closers over the same period for career saves. The bottom line is, Heath Bell dominates.
Many of the Padres fans concerned about Heath Bell’s continued tenure in San Diego (can you imagine this reaction for Adrian Gonzalez if he wasn’t traded last year) worry that the Padres lost out on an opportunity to add youthful talent. Bell will turn 34 this season and is on the back end of most pitching careers. Yet, he is only in his third season of closing games that’s young in closer years. What’s also being overlooked is what the Padres got in return for Mike Adams instead.
Bell probably would have netted a minor league prospect and maybe a draft pick due to his age. By trading Adams instead, the Padres yielded two above-average prospects. Robbie Erlin is only 20-years old and looks to be very close to promotion to Triple-A. Joe Weiland is 10-3 with a 1.80 ERA. He recently threw a no-hitter against the very team he was traded to, and he is only 21 years old.
That was a big trade and will hopefully pan out, but that’s not the biggest reason trading Bell wouldn’t have helped. The Padres would have gotten little return it seems and would have lost one of the clubhouse leaders. Don’t think leaders matter? Look at David Eckstein. He was one of the most vocal and passionate leaders on the team last season. The Padres went on to win 90 games with him. Since he’s moved on, the Padres are on pace to win 20 less games.
When you have a top notch player willing to take less money to stay with your team, you should do whatever it takes to make that happen. I know most GM’s shudder at the idea of a reliever being the highest paid player on the club, but when that player dominates the ninth, is willing to take less money than his open-market value, and is clearly a team leader, pay him the money.
San Diego may end up losing Bell after all is said and done anyway. That all depends on Jed Hoyer. But Heath Bell means more to the Padres than anything they would have got in return leading up to the trade deadline. And that, boys and girls, is why Bell is still slamming the door in the ninth for the Padres.