The Giants made a significant move today, claiming Heath Bell off of waivers from San Diego.
Let me clarify that: it’s significant in that it blocks Arizona and Philadelphia from getting a shot to trade for Bell. Chances are slim that the Padres would ship their closer to the Giants, since their asking price would likely be more than San Francisco is willing to pay. It’s a pipe dream, and we should get the notion of Bell joining the Giants out of our heads right now. It’s not going to happen.
Unless, of course, it does happen. Now I’m confused.
The Padres tried hard to move Bell before the non-waiver deadline but couldn’t find a team to pay their asking price; instead, they ended up moving Mike Adams to Texas instead. It was widely assumed that San Diego would offer Bell arbitration and let him walk in the offseason, taking draft pick compensation in return. Bell threw a wrench in those plans the day after the deadline, however, when he told a reporter that he fully intended to accept San Diego’s arbitration offer and stay with the team for at least another year. Bell seems to genuinely like playing in San Diego, so there’s no reason to believe he’s playing some kind of leverage game with his comments.
This puts the Padres in a tough position. If they offer Bell arbitration, he’s almost guaranteed to accept it and would be awarded somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million for 2012. That’s a huge amount of money for a low-payroll team like the Padres to pay, especially for a closer. If they don’t offer him arbitration and let him walk in free agency, they get nothing in return and run the risk of alienating their fan base even more this winter. If they offer him a multiyear deal, then they have more money and years tied up in a closer who’ll turn 35 next year. None of the options sound all that appealing from the Padres’ standpoint.
Enter the Giants. With both Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo hurt, the back end of the bullpen is in dire need of an arm. Bell remains one of the top closers in the game and would easily slide into the 9th inning role until Wilson was healthy again. This is more than a blocking move, in my opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants aggressively pursue a trade with the Padres.
The Padres, for their part, would be smart to at least listen to the Giants’ offers and perhaps lower their asking price for Bell. Knowing that Bell would accept arbitration takes away a lot of their leverage, since they won’t have the draft pick compensation to fall back on. If they can get a decent group of prospects from the Giants- no elite players like Gary Brown, mind you- they may seriously consider trading their closer. Plus, there's nothing preventing them from bringing Bell back in the offseason as a free agent if they ultimately decide they're willing to pay him.
On their end, the Giants could sweeten the pot by agreeing to not offer Bell arbitration in the offseason. That'd make it easier for the Padres to bring Bell back to San Diego if they’re so inclined without them losing a draft pick in the process. San Francisco could offer an attractive package of players- maybe starting with Dan Runzler, for example- without giving up another “untouchable” prospect. They have the means to get a deal done if they push hard enough.
The Giants made it clear that they’re going for it this year when they made the Carlos Beltran deal, injuries be damned. Losing Wilson and Romo is yet another big hurdle for the team to overcome, but adding a closer of Bell’s caliber would go a long way in helping them get through September. Cody Ross was a waiver claim last August and helped push the Giants to the World Series; this year, it very well could happen again.
And if Bell happens to hit a few home runs off of Roy Halladay this October, even better.