Nats Hope Their Lineup is Saved by the Bell

D.J. Short
·7 min read

Talk about your last-minute Christmas shopping. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo recently said that his top priority was to add a middle-of-the-order power bat and he found his man on Thursday, acquiring first baseman/designated hitter Josh Bell from the Pirates in exchange for prospect right-handers Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.

The Nationals bought low here on the switch-hitting Bell, as he’s faded significantly since a standout first half in 2019. The 28-year-old batted just .226/.305/.364 with eight homers over 57 games in this year’s shortened season. This wasn’t a matter of bad luck, either, as Bell’s strikeout rate soared from 19.2 percent in 2019 all the way to a career-high 26.5 percent. His contact rate (69.5 percent) was also a career-low. In addition to the sudden whiff issues, he pounded the ball into the ground more than ever before.

The one silver lining here is that Bell still hit the ball hard. According to Baseball Savant, he was in the 87th percentile in terms of average exit velocity. If you separate for fly balls/line drives, he ranked 58th among qualified hitters (95 mph), higher than the likes of Javier Baez, Ian Happ, Xander Bogaerts, Kyle Tucker, and Luis Robert. Batted balls hit 95 mph or higher in 2020 had a .510 batting average and a .1.064 slugging percentage. 2020 was a highly unusual year for a long list of reasons, so the Nationals are right to take their chances on a guy who mashed 37 homers with a .936 OPS in 2019.

Bell made $4.8 million via arbitration last winter and carries two more years of team control. He’s at -32 DRS (defensive runs saved) at first base since breaking into the majors in 2016, so the Nationals are probably hoping the DH comes back to the National League. Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames, and Asdrubal Cabrera logged most of the time there last season, but Kendrick retired and the others are free agents. This move also doesn’t rule out the possible return of Ryan Zimmerman, who sat out the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19.

The Nationals managed to land Bell without giving up the likes of Carter Kieboom, Cade Cavalli, or Jackson Rutledge, but the Pirates still secured a pair of interesting arms. Crowe should be ready to help right now. The 25-year-old was tattooed for 13 runs (11 earned) in 8 1/3 innings over his first three starts in the majors this past season, but he has a four-pitch arsenal which should find a home in the back-end of a major league rotation. While he doesn’t throw particularly hard (he averaged 91.5 mph on his four-seamer this year), he throws strikes and has displayed a good spin rate. That was especially the case with his slider this past year. His changeup was a highly-regarded pitch in the minors, but he didn’t throw it much during his time with the Nationals in 2020.

The 19-year-old Yean is a little further off. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, he posted a 3.50 ERA and 43/17 K/BB ratio in 46 1/3 innings over 10 starts between rookie ball and Low-A in 2019. He’s listed 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds and throws in the mid-90s with his fastball.

With Bell out the door, other familiar names on the Pirates roster could be traded in the days ahead as the team looks to the future. According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, general manager Ben Cherington said Thursday that “this probably won’t be the last of them.” Merry Christmas, Pirates fans. Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, and Adam Frazier figure to be the likely targets around the league.

By the way, if you need a laugh, be sure to check out Saved by the Bell on Peacock. It’s a charming good time.

Other moves:

Tigers signed RHP Jose Urena to a one-year, $3.25 million contract

Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that Urena could make an additional $250,000 in incentives. The 29-year-old was non-tendered by the Marlins earlier this month after posting a 5.40 ERA in five starts this season while missing time with COVID-19. He suffered an ulna fracture in his forearm in his final start of the regular season. Urena also missed time with a back injury in 2019 while posting a 5.21 ERA over 13 starts and nine relief appearances, but the Tigers are hoping he can get back to being a useful back-end starter.

As of now, Urena will join a rotation which also includes Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, and Michael Fulmer. There’s upside abound for the fifth spot, including top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal.

Red sox signed RHP Matt Andriese to a one-year, $2.1 million contract

The deal includes a $3.5 million club option for 2022. Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Andriese can max out at $7.35 million if he reaches all of the performance incentives and the option year is exercised.

Andriese, 31, was non-tendered by the Angels earlier this month after posting a 4.50 ERA and 33/11 K/BB ratio over 32 innings this past season. He held right-handed batters to a .169/.239/.262 batting line and enjoyed a nice bounceback with an above-average spin curveball, so he’s a respectable middle relief option at the very least. The Red Sox seem open-minded on his potential role, but they’ll take respectable anything after their staff posted an unsightly 5.58 ERA (28th in MLB) this past season. In Boston, Andriese will be reunited with Chaim Bloom, who knows him well from their time together with the Rays.

Dodgers reportedly signed RHP Tommy Kahnle to a two-year contract

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported news of the signing on Wednesday, though it has yet to be officially announced. The deal carries a total guarantee of $4.75 million, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Kahnle, 31, required Tommy John surgery in August and will be in rehab mode for the entire 2021 season. However, he posted a 3.67 ERA and 88/20 K/BB ratio over 61 1/3 relief innings with the Yankees in 2019, so there’s reason to be patient here.

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