MLB Free Agents 2012: 5 Teams That Should Be Vying for Heath Bell
A premier closer is wasted on a last-place team, and the Padres will have to settle for Type-A free-agent compensation when Heath Bell is rewarded this offseason. Only Mariano Rivera can compare to Bell’s consistent dominance over the last five years, and he could fetch more than fellow free-agent Jonathan Papelbon to become to second highest paid player at the position.
The market for elite closers should be tempered by recent excessive deals to Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, as the value of a ninth-inning eater fluctuates based on the needs on top-spending contenders.
Here are five teams that have the payroll room and need for an elite closer like Heath Bell to push them over the top.
Long-time setup man Ryan Madson capably stepped into the closer’s role after incumbent Brad Lidge couldn’t put his arm together in 2011. Buying Bell would strain a payroll already filled by a well-paid rotation, with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Both shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson are free agents, and replacing them with Heath Bell would be a death sentence for lineups that can’t tame Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Co.
The Phillies might get the most use out of a costly expenditure like Bell and are therefore an extremely viable option.
The Rangers added stud setup men Mike Adams and Koji Uehara at the trade deadline, but would ideally like to move closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation. The void would create an instant need for Adams’ former San Diego teammate.
Given the Rangers' public desire to attract big-name free agents like Albert Pujols, we can assure that there is plenty of money to afford an arm like Heath Bell.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Predicting the Dodgers offseason has a lot more to do with the ownership, as Frank McCourt could sell the team in time to make a big free-agent splash. Buyers are already lining up, but any delay will likely keep the team in limbo until stars like Heath Bell are off the market and homegrown talents like Andre Either and Matt Kemp will want their own contracts to be addressed.
While Javy Guerra filled in for the broken Jonathan Broxton as closer last season with a 2.31 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, he is not a bona fide stopper like Bell, and taking a division rival’s asset is usually a good play.
St. Louis Cardinals
The defending World Series champions could have ample money to spend if Albert Pujols skips town and they lack a sure-thing at the back of their bullpen. Jason Motte was downright filthy in the playoffs (.49 WHIP), but has been anything but reliable in the three seasons of failing to become the team’s full-time closer. Young flamethrower Fernando Salas is still untested.
With Adam Wainwright expected to return in 2012 and Albert on the fence, the Cardinals could sign Heath Bell and defend their title behind dominant pitching.
Boston Red Sox
Free-agent incumbent Jonathan Papelbon could command even more money than Heath Bell coming off a lock-down season (2.94 ERA, .93 WHIP), but was inconsistent in 2010 and could be a casualty of a clubhouse in need of major overhaul.
The reason to pay Papelbon more than Bell is that he comes AL East-battle tested and has performed deep into the postseason—but he simply hasn’t been as consistent year-to-year.
Bell may be discounted for pitching in Petco Park, the major’s largest baseball diamond, and a move to Fenway would be a challenge, but he could actually be a cost-saving move for a team in major need of a roster overhaul.