The fact that Josh Bell is returning to the Miami Marlins probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
The manner in which he did so? Kinda shocking. Shocking ... and also a massive win for Miami.
Just two days after Jorge Soler opted out of the last year of his deal, Josh Bell opted back in, returning to the Marlins for the 2024 season. He'll earn $16.5 million, no small sum for a Marlins hitter. Next year? Another shot at free agency.
Now at first glance, that might just seem like a stay of execution, kick the can down the road kind of move. And that's because it is. The thing is, that's hardly a bad thing from the Marlins perspective. To Bell or his agent? Sure. For Miami and their reshuffling as you read front office? It's arguably the best-case scenario.
Why? For starters, Bell's opt-in amounts to one of those one-year, prove-it deals. Kind of like the conditions Soler essentially operated under last season. The small market Marlins can once again rely on an All-Star caliber player in the heart of their lineup without having to had awarded him an All-Star caliber contract. Bell is betting on himself and using Miami, which is cool as the Marlins are doing the same thing to him. Bell is playing for a premium contract, and Miami can hope his drive to do that carries them to another winning season.
Of course, the same would be true if Bell had opted out, and then returned anyway on his own version of the departed Soler's original contract. A two- or three-year deal with player options. That was my expectation. Bell spoke often since arriving in Miami of how much he actually enjoyed playing here. A playoff run will do that, as will trading the city Cleveland for Miami. But it really did seem genuine, and he even went as far to commend loan Depot Park as being favorable to hit in ... something I believe precisely zero other players have done in the history of the ballpark. Yet the opt-out still seemed certain to me, as even a contract making slightly less 2024 money would arguably be a better contract from the perspective of Bell if it came with the security blanket of an option for 2025. He could earn a big contract with his 2024 play. Then again, he could also suffer a terrible injury or just perform terribly.
In this opt-in, Bell betting on himself scenario, the Marlins aren't on the hook for the safety net, which is the opposite of the Soler situation. In fact, Soler was only a Marlin in 2023 because he was terrible in 2022. He ended up being one of the best parts of the offense by the end of 2023, but was a massive question mark at the start of the year. That makes it a true one-year deal, which is all upside. Even if Miami struggles this season, they can always trade him for the next Ryan Weathers in July now. A longer deal would have complicated that.
There's also the added bonus of public perception to consider. Bell opting in quite possibly saved the Miami Marlins from themselves. After a successful, improbable 2023 season, Marlins fans are expecting the team to try to improve. To try to get back to the playoffs, or at the very least to remain competitive. No tear down, no rebuilding, just more winning. That sentiment is undeniable ... and yet everything else about this offseason so far has suggested that owner Bruce Sherman might not be as concerned about 2024 as fans would like. Bell returning takes away the low-hanging fruit criticism of the Marlins not being willing to spend to even keep the players that helped last season. It also is the kind of move that will help ticket sales between now and Opening Day. Perhaps there was some cheaper, younger slugger out there that would have been a better option. However, it would have been an option viewed as "same old Marlins." Something the club very much can't afford, even if they are genuinely going to be changing much of their player evaluation process going forward.
Bottom-line, a fan favorite is returning to the Miami Marlins next season, and their lineup just got significantly deeper than it was looking to be just a few days ago. Two statements that have been said far too rarely in team history.
All in all, it was a good weekend for Miami.