A Closer Look at Free-Agent, Heath Bell


Life without Jonathan Papelbon has begun for Red Sox Nation and while there are mixed emotions about his departure, he does leave a rather large hole in the ninth inning slot for the Red Sox. 

But not to worry as there are plenty of options available for Ben Cherington.  Of course there are the in house candidates that could take over the closer role, namely Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks.  It’s a little unnerving to think about either as the stopper, especially Jenks when you consider his current health status. 

While Bard is the logical choice of an internal replacement, the list of free-agent closers is quite attractive for Cherington. At the top of that list is former Padres shut down specialist, Heath Bell

Bell took over the Padres closing role in 2009 when legendary Trevor Hoffman retired.  In three seasons as the ninth inning guy, Bell has saved 42, 47 and 43 games for the Padres.  His ERA has never been above .271 in those three years, with 2010 being his lowest at .193.  His WHIP has hovered around 1.14 while he’s averaged a WAR of 14 as a closer.  He’s only blown 14 saves in three seasons and his strikeout per 9 innings was as high as 10 per in ’09 and ’10.  It dropped last season to just over 7 strikeouts per 9 innings.  Sound enticing?  It should and there’s more.

He’s been an all-star three consecutive years in a row for the National League team and who could forget his epic dash from the bullpen and sudden slide short of the mound in the 2011 All-Star game in Arizona.  Looks like Mr. Bell has some character to him. Hmmmm, another interesting feature that the Red Sox could use.

Bell’s main pitch is his fastball, generally hitting between 94-96mph on the radar gun, but has hit as high as 98mph on a fairly consistent basis.  He does sport a nasty 11-5 curveball which would come in handy against as we’ve seen Papelbon strikeout many batters with his stuff down and away.

There are some concerns with Bell that are worth noting.  First, his age of 34-years might concern the Red Sox.  He’s looking for a multi-year deal, likely hoping for four years, but may settle on three.  That would take him to the age of 37 if he signed for three-years in Boston.  Not many closers are still dominant at 37, but given Bell’s late start to the closing role he may be an exception to this.

A second concern were his struggles at certain points this past year.  The month of August saw him blow two saves while posting an ERA of 3.72, the highest of any month in 2011.  He gave up 11 hits, 4 earned runs and walked 3 in 9.2 innings of work.  In June, he was perfect in saves, going 9 for 9 but it was an ERA of 3.27 that sticks out.  Batters hit a season high .290 against Bell during that month, pitching in 11 innings while giving up 12 hits and 4 earned runs.

But don’t get to excited about a couple of less than stellar months.  The final month of September, Bell was once again dominating in his role.  He went 8 for 9 in save situations, posting a 1.86 ERA for the month, allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits during 9.2 innings.  He did strike out 11 batters in that month.

But perhaps the biggest concern is whether or not Bell will leave sunny San Diego and head to the east coast.  He’s openly stated that he would take a home-town discount to resign with the Padres.  The Oceanside, California native loves the west coast but did say he would love a chance to play for the Red Sox. He’s not getting any younger and the Padres are a few, if not many years away from being serious contenders.  If Bell wants a shot at winning then Boston gives him that opportunity.

Picture this Red Sox fans.  The eighth inning ends at Fenway Park with the Red Sox up a run.  The door to the bullpen opens and suddenly you see Heath Bell sprint, that’s right sprint out to the mound.  All the while you hear Breaking Benjamin’s, Blow Me Away blaring over the speakers.  A fine replacement to the Irish sounds of the Dropkick Murphy’s – Shipping Up to Boston, don’t you think?

But if the Papelbon saga over the past week taught us anything, its don’t expect Cherington to sign Bell or anyone for that matter to soon.  After all it was Cherington who said that it was too early in the offseason to commit to a big-money, four-year contract.

I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come or the Red Sox could find themselves missing out on a few nice free agent prizes, including Heath Bell.

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