Heath Bell was perceived to be the jewel of major league relievers who were available at the trade deadline, according to many of the mainstream baseball writers. The San Diego Padres and general manager Jed Hoyer could not find a package of prospects worth enough to trade Bell, and Hoyer was forced to move Mike Adams.
The Rangers, who were desperate for another reliever despite adding Koji Uehara on Saturday, were willing to deal two top pitching prospects in Joseph Wieland and Robert Erlin. However, Adams' contract—and more importantly, his overall numbers—made Adams the more attractive of the two relievers. Furthermore, the Padres could not find another organization ready to pull the trigger to acquire Bell at a steep price. Hoyer felt comfortable to gamble giving Bell arbitration and receiving two draft picks.
Why weren't teams ready to acquire Bell? Bell's 2011 numbers indicate that the 33-year-old right-hander is in the stage of decline. His strikeout rate has dropped from 11.06 to 6.85 K/9, a career low, and his swinging strike rate has dropped from 10.6 to 8.6 percent. Additionally, Bell's ground ball rate has dropped in each of the last three seasons and his contact rate of 81.7 percent is a career high.
Bell, like all Padres pitchers, has benefited from logging half of his innings at Petco Park and his xFIP of 3.77 is the highest mark of his career. He has benefited from a lucky .254 BABIP, considering he has allowed a line drive rate of 20.7 percent (his highest since becoming a member of the Padres).
Adams' WAR of 1.4 is twice as high as Bell's 0.7, and Adams had better peripherals (9.119 K/9 and 1.69 BB/9) in addition to having a xFIP of 2.69. Bell has logged 465 major league innings compared to Adams' 285.2, and the evidence points to Bell declining before Adams.
The Padres will go through the dance of publicly stating that the organization would be happy to sign Bell to an extension, but Hoyer is likely to give arbitration to Bell and wait for another team to sign him so the Padres can get the extra draft picks. Rebuilding teams do not spend 20 percent of payroll on an aging closer, and it seems that Hoyer missed the window to maximize Bell's value.
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