The Heath Bell Experience made its final stop with the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend. According to Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the 36-year-old reliever was designated for assignment on Sunday, clearing a roster spot for the team to add another pitcher, Nate Karns, to their bullpen.
Once an effective closer for the San Diego Padres — he recorded 132 saves from 2011-13 — and one of the games most entertainng attractions, Bell has fallen off the map since signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the then Florida Marlins in 2012. In the two-plus seasons since, Bell has posted a 4.91 ERA, allowed 18 home runs and saved only 34 games.
The ineffectiveness has led to Bell changing uniforms twice via trade over the past two seasons. On Oct. 20, 2012, Bell was shipped by the Marlins, who did not include a no-trade clause in their contract, to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team deal also including the Oakland A's. Following the 2013 season, he was traded again, this time to the Rays as a part of a three-team deal involving the Cincinnati Reds.
The changes in scenery didn't help. In fact, Bell has basically bottomed out this season for the Rays. In 13 games covering 17 1/3 innings, he had a 7.27 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP, which gave the Rays little reason to believe a turnaround was coming.
Coming off a doubleheader in Boston on Thursday and a 14-inning marathon against the New York Yankees on Friday, manager Joe Maddon didn't have the luxury of giving Bell more time. A fresh arm was desperately needed in the bullpen, and Bell was the obvious choice to send out despite his expensive salary. The Rays will still owe Bell $5.5 million for the reminder of the season if he clears waivers, which is a lot of dead money for a team that doesn't typically spend top dollar.
Also worth noting, assuming Bell clears waivers, which is basically a lock, he'll be free to sign elsewhere for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. If and when that happens, it's possible he'll be earning a paycheck from four different teams for the rest of the season. In addition to the $5.5 million owed by the Rays, the Marlins ($4 million) and D-Backs ($500,000) are still sending checks as well. Both teams had to pick up some of his salary just to trade him, so he's officially still on their payrolls.
As for his future, teams will definitely come calling. Finding experienced bullpen arms on the cheap is difficult, so there's always an opportunity for guys like Bell should they pursue them. Where he'll wind up is anybody's guess. Twenty teams recently scouted former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan during a workout before he signed with the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps that number will be lower since teams pretty much know what Bell is at this point, but there should still be a wide range of suitors.
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