Much of the past week the baseball world has braced for an active start to the hot stove season, particularly with all of the talk surrounding Miami’s rumored discussions with the New York Yankees about third baseman Alex Rodriguez popping up during the Yankees’ disappointing exit from this year’s playoffs. Turns out Miami was quick to make a move in order to start rebuilding their roster, but in a direction that few could have seen coming. Early Saturday afternoon the Arizona Diamondbacks announced, according to MLBTR, that they had acquired right-hander Heath Bell and cash considerations from the Marlins, as well as shortstop Cliff Pennington from the Oakland A’s in a three-team trade. Oakland receives center fielder Chris Young and cash from the Diamondbacks. Miami gets minor league shortstop Yordy Cabrera from the A’s.
For the Marlins, this is likely just the first step in what will likely be an active and aggressive offseason. Miami spent last winter rebranding – changing from Florida to Miami, redesigning their uniforms and logo, and opened a brand new ballpark in preparation for this past season. They supplemented such moves by spending $191 Million on the free agent market to bring in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Bell. But after finishing the 2012 season at 69-93, dead last in the NL East, Miami seems intent on making some structural changes to a roster that largely underperformed last season. Bell is merely the first domino to fall.
The former closer was brought in on a three year, $27 Million deal early last December. Over the three previous seasons, after assuming the closing role in San Diego, Bell had pitched to a 2.36 ERA with a 1.157 WHIP over 202.1 innings while saving 132 games. He was quirky, but dominant on the mound, striking out more than a batter per inning. And he was expected to restore order to the back end of Miami’s bullpen, solidifying the team’s chances at the end of games. Bell, however, imploded upon arriving in Miami. He’d struggle on the mound during the season’s first half, ultimately losing the closer’s role by mid-July, and wound up struggling to control his temper towards season’s end, developing a rocky relationship with the team’s manager Ozzie Guillen over how he was being used. Bell would make 73 appearances for the Marlins this past season, pitching to a 5.09 ERA and 1.555 WHIP over 63.2 innings, saving just 19 games.
His poor performance, loss of the closer’s role, and unhappiness in the clubhouse left Miami little choice but to move Bell this winter. In doing so, and by agreeing to send Arizona $8 Million, they also manage to save themselves roughly $13 Million in payroll over the next two seasons. How Bell fits into the Arizona roster and bullpen, however, is another puzzle to be solved.
Earlier in the day Saturday, the Diamondbacks started things off by exercising their option for returning closer J.J. Putz, a move many expected. The decision will call for Putz to make $6.5 Million next season, his third in the desert. Over the past two seasons Putz has saved 77 games while posting a 2.48 ERA and 0.970 WHIP across 112.1 innings of work. By most accounts he’s been a leader in Arizona’s bullpen and seems likely to retain the closer’s role. With Putz in place, closing is clearly not in Bell’s immediate future with the D’backs.
Arizona GM Kevin Towers has long been known for his ability to build quality bullpens. During his tenure as San Diego’s GM he was responsible for the relief corps employed in front of Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman for nearly his entire career. One of those moves, as it would happen, was acquiring Bell from the New York Mets after the 2006 season. Bell once thrived in a setup role in San Diego, posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.072 WHIP over two years pitching in front of Hoffman. Perhaps Towers feels that reuniting in Arizona will deliver positive results once again but ultimately that is no certainty. Towers has a track record for being loyal with his big name closers, however, so he must also believe that Bell will be willing to accept an 8th inning role in front of Putz. Add in David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler and find a reliable left-handed option and suddenly the D’backs may have one of the better bullpens in the National League.
If Bell is capable of returning to his pre-2012 form for the D’backs the team will surely have an advantage with their bullpen depth. Curiously, adding a reliever never appeared to be a priority for the team this winter, but a trade involving one of their outfielders seemed like a near-certainty and Young was easily the most likely to be moved. Scheduled to earn $8.5 Million for the 2013 season, Young was proving costly for Arizona given the number of outfielders they had on the roster. With more players than available playing time, someone had to go.
Despite a down season in 2012 in which he hit just .231/.311/.434 with 14 HR and 41 RBI, there still seemed to be some value a team could get out of Young. Just 29, Young’s contract contains an $11 Million option for 2014. Should Oakland decided to decline it they’d owe him a $1.5 Million buyout. At a net cost of one year and $10 Million, it would be understandable to think that a change of scenery could do him well and there is expected to be a number of teams evaluating their center field situation this offseason. The free agent market contains a handful of big-name options in Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, and Shane Victorino so it would seem reasonable to think that a market could potentially develop for Young as a “lower cost” option. Over parts of seven seasons Young is just a .239/.318/.437 hitter who’s shown flashes of talent but has never lived up to expectations, but he still may prove to be the best player involved in this deal. One has to wonder if Towers could have gotten more in return for him had he waited a little longer.
Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane allegedly called Towers shortly after the the team was eliminated from the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers, expressing an interest specifically in Young. After a surprising playoff run in 2012, Oakland seemed poised to enter next season with a starting outfield of Yoenes Cespedes, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick with Seth Smith and likely Jonny Gomes coming off the bench. Despite being a positive presence in the clubhouse, a fan favorite, and only costing a mere $1 Million last season it would now seem apparent that the chances are not high that Gomes is resigned. However, Young’s athleticism in the outfield may prove to be of more value than Gomes’ power production at the plate. Unless, of course, Beane’s plan is to move one of the outfielders in a deal elsewhere to address another need, though MLB.com’s Jane Lee (via Twitter) reports that Beane’s plan is to rotate the five (i.e. Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick, Smith, Young) across the outfield and as the team’s DH. He likes the depth and versatility the group provides – which may lean the advantage in the deal in Oakland’s favor.
Pennington no longer had a certain role in Oakland, having been used mostly at second base after the team acquired Stephen Drew (also from Arizona) at the July trade deadline. Over a five year career with the A’s, Pennington has hit just .249/.313/.356 but has generally been a reliable defensive option. A year away from free agency he was set to earn just $490,000 for the 2013 season and his versatility would make him a strong candidate off the bench for many teams. Scott Sizemore will return to his natural position at second base and will likely be one of the team’s options along with Jemile Weeks. Oakland is also potentially considering bringing Drew back on a new contract, further eliminating the need for Pennington. However, with the Diamondbacks looking to upgrade across the left side of their infield, he could make sense as a cost effective option for them.
J. Levi Burnfin at Venom Strikes brought up an interesting point in response to the deal, questioning not the logic behind the deal but whether the team could have better allocated Young’s $10 Million elsewhere. He cites the team’s needs at third base, shortstop, and for a left-handed in the bullpen. But he also points to the potential extension discussions the team could consider having with Daniel Hudson and/or Ian Kennedy. Adding Pennington and Bell to the roster to replace Young not only doesn’t address those needs but adds payroll to the team’s roster. It’s some curiosity to the deal that shouldn’t be overlooked. Bell’s remaining salary ($21M) less what Miami included in the deal ($8M) leaves roughly $13 Million in salary that the D’backs are absorbing. All they subtracted was Young’s $10 Million. In the end, the Diamondbacks may have jumped the gun and traded Young too early, only to take on a project in Bell and $3 Million in added salary*.
* The D’backs sent $500,000 to Oakland with Young, but are paying the $490,000 Pennington is owed. That’s a wash, so it was purposefully left out of that calculation.
Miami ultimately makes out for ridding themselves of Bell and for only having to pay $8 Million of what remained on his contract. Some would say they were lucky to receive anything in return. Lost in the shuffle of the day’s trade, the Marlins also received 22 year old Cabrera, who was taken in the 2nd Round of the 2010 Draft by the A’s and spent this past season playing for High-A Stockton. He hit .232/.293/.332 on the year over 239 plate appearances over 60 games.