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Are You Going to Lose Your Closer? Examining the Market for Heath Bell

In real life baseball, good closers rarely lose save opportunities when they remain on the same team and remain good. Perhaps, if they are filling in for an injured closer (Brandon League for instance) the idea exists that no matter how good they pitch, they'll lose their save opportunities when the incumbent closer returns.

However, in fantasy baseball you could have one of the games best closers and keep on your team and "Poof!" your saves are gone. Why? Because great closers can be on bad teams (and often are if you consider how bad teams rarely win by more than 1 or 2 runs, hence, these closers rack up a lot of saves) and those bad teams can make the future of their team better by trading away what is essentially a replaceable part.

Closers are rarely anything but irreplaceable. Bad teams don't need great closers because the only job of a closer is to hold onto the win. When you're not winning very often, they are of more use to you in trade than they are in the field. Every year when the trading deadline nears you will hear about "relief pitchers on the market" because you can never have enough pitching, the bullpen could always get better, and there are 6 or 7 bullpen spots available.

Which teams will land Heath Bell? Read on after the jump:

The Yankees aren't going to trade for a first baseman. Neither are the Red Sox or the Phillies. That makes trading a first baseman a tricky situation. In reality, the value of a great closer might actually be greater than the value of a good first baseman because there might only be a couple of teams in need of a first baseman, that are in a playoff run, that have the prospects, that can take on his salary, etc.

But bullpen arms are cheap and everyone can make an argument that they need another. The value of the player you are trading is only as good as the market. Just ask all of the social media companies that are starting to go public.

When Cliff Lee was on the market last year, it was apparent early that previous forecasts of his value were way off. Many people I talked to spoke of "he's only a rental" but they weren't seeing the big picture. Cliff Lee was an ace, left-handed pitcher, and arguably every team in a playoff race could use him. There wasn't a single team in the hunt that had 5 starters better than Cliff Lee or even 2 starters better than him. That's how the Mariners were able to grab Justin Smoak and 3 other prospects in return for 2+ months of Lee, because the Yankees were going just as hard after him as the Rangers were. They were pit against each other and ultimately the Rangers (and the Mariners) won.

All that being said, we come to the trade markets premiere bullpen arm: Heath Bell. His name has been on the trade market since after the 2009 season when it was apparent that the Padres were going to be really bad in 2010 so they might as well trade Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell while they could still get premium value for them and begin to rebuild. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for the Padres, they did not stink at all. Pitching and defense had them in the playoff race until the very end and both players were still in San Diego after the season had ended.

The Padres decided to not test another year however and traded their best player away in Gonzalez. That leaves them with Bell as their prime trade candidate and what could be an important building block to their future. They need to be sure that they are getting at least one very important piece in return for Bell, or they'll happily hang onto the best player on their team and extrapolate type-A status from him after the season is over. They have Mike Adams waiting in the wings to close if necessary (and also as a trade candidate) so the Padres are in the position that they don't need to trade Bell, but they are perfectly ready and willing to do so.

Bell is a free agent after the season and will definitely be a type-A free agent, meaning that he will be offered arbitration, turn it down, and then the team that acquires Bell will recieve 2 first-round picks in exchange for losing him. This ups his value on the trade market considerably, and could be the main reason that the Padres could land a blue-chip prospect in return.

Using deduction, we will find out what teams will be after Bell by first eliminating the ones that will not....

They aren't in a playoff race:

Toronto, Baltimore, Minnesota, Kansas City, Oakland, New York Mets, Washington, Chicago Cubs, Houston, LA Dodgers

Any arguments about "this team" or "that team" not being out of the race yet are nothing more than arguments and technically everything is arguable until they are mathematically eliminated. Sure, any team can reel off 10 straight wins and find themselves in the thick of it, but all of these teams are long-shots. If you believe I am being biased by not including my Seattle Mariners in the list, I will say this: I don't believe that the Mariners will make the playoffs, but only being 3.5 back and knowing our GM, I can't discount the fact that we could be close by mid-July in a bad division or that Jack Z will make a move. I only give them a little bit more hope than the A's, but I don't believe either team is going to make the playoffs.

Need of a relief pitcher isn't great enough for them to outbid another suitor:

Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago White Sox

All of these teams have acceptable to good bullpens. Barring injury or a desperate need to block Heath Bell to a division rival, I wouldn't see them outbidding the more desperate teams for Bell's services.

Teams in Play:

New York Yankees -

The Yankees are set with Mariano Rivera at closer, and David Robertson has been excellent, but injuries to Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano have exposed a need for more help in the bullpen. It also just reeks of "Yankee" to acquire the best arm on the market.

They have a number of prospects to offer, and the rumored offer of Jesus Montero for Joakim Soria last year could turn into Montero for Bell. The idea of Montero in the National League and especially San Diego doesn't sound so promising, but he'd definitely be talked about in any trade talks. The Padres need hitting badly, but just based on value might instead ask for Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances instead.

Will He Close? No.

Boston Red Sox -

If the Yankees are involved, you bet the Red Sox are involved. Papelbon, while still very good, isn't the dominating closer he was in 2007. He is also a free agent after the season, and unlike Bell, may not be offered arbitration. Alfredo Aceves's 3.62 ERA masks a bad 5.25 xFIP and he's already logged 49.1 innings.

The Sox could offer Michael Bowden for starters. He's not the prospect he once was, when he was a starter, but he could be very good in relief in San Diego and he's still just 24 years old. He wouldn't be enough for Bell, but there's a number of prospects to build a package around, including: SS Jose Iglesias, OF Ryan Kalish, SP Andrew Miller, and C Ryan Lavarnway.

Will He Close? Maybe. Truthfully, he's better than Papelbon, though that's always a tough sell to replace a popular guy who isn't sucking.

Tampa Bay Rays -

The Rays could outbid both the Red Sox and Yankees in terms of prospects, but are always reluctant to do so. They insist that they're not afraid to add payroll if it helps the team, but it doesn't seem to add up to me that they would unless it was a bat.

Kyle Farnsworth has been surprisingly good, but the rebuilt bullpen could still use another frontline relief pitcher, something they sorely lack. They are currently 4 games back of the Yankees and 1.5 back of the Sox. I don't believe the Rays will be involved.

Detroit Tigers -

The Tigers gave up a lot to sign Joaquin Benoit in the offseason and he's been a total disappointment until recently. Jose Valverde is entrenched at closer, and it doesn't seem to me that the Tigers have the prospects to outbid another team, even if they wanted to. I think they could use Heath Bell, but not badly enough.

Texas Rangers -

Neftali Feliz is the closer of the now and the future (unless he's a starter of the future) but he's already been injured and walked almost as many batters this season as he did all of last season. Bell probably wouldn't replace him as closer, but the Rangers bullpen is riddled with players that are old or oft-injured. They could desperately use a guy like Heath Bell in an effort to pull away in the AL West.

Would they dare move top pitching prospect Martin Perez? I don't think they would, but they could move 18 year old SS Jurickson Profar with Elvis Andrus currently in the majors for awhile. The Rangers weren't afraid to make a move last year, why would this year be any different?

Will He Close? No.

LA Angels of A -

The Angels bullpen is okay. If not for the fact that they would like to keep Bell from Texas and make a playoff push, I don't see Anaheim involved. If they did, Tyler Chatwood and Jean Segura could be talked about.

Philadelphia Phillies -

Not only because of injuries to the bullpen, but also because you would hate to waste a start from any of their top 3 pitchers, the Phillies will probably inquire on Bell.

Dom Brown is probably too much to ask, but Jonathan Singleton, Brody Colvin, or Jarred Cosart could be starting prices. I don't know how Singleton fits into the Padres plan, but the Phillies probably have just enough to keep them interested.

Will He Close? I'll say YES

Milwaukee Brewers -

John Axford is one of the more underrated closers in the league, he has been lights out for 1.5 seasons. But the rest of the bullpen is shaky. The problem is that the Brewers already sold the farm, so they probably can't compete for Bell's services.

Arizona Diamondbacks -

The D'Backs bullpen isn't nearly the problem that it was a year ago, but it isn't great or anything either. Bell is better than JJ Putz, though Putz has been a good comeback story. (This is the first time he's saved more than 15 games since 2007)

Note: JJ Putz on the DL, d'oh! Meaning Bell would definitely close in Arizona, depending.

If they were so inclined to add Bell, they could probably get the Padres very interested with either Jarrod Parker or Tyler Skaggs.

Will He Close? Not likely without injury.


I have decided that New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are the most likely possibilities and maybe Arizona but I think that's more of a longshot. I think Philly would be willing to outbid the other teams but may not have enough without offering Dom Brown, which won't happen. Philly would be the only place he'd probably be closing in, meaning there's a good, if not likely, chance that if Bell is traded he won't be closing anymore.

This means that fantasy owners who like to gamble could trade away Bell this month before the Padres do. In most leagues a reliever without saves isn't of much use, though Bell is one of the exceptions to the rule. However, his value will be mostly tied in his saves if you want to trade him now.

If I had to make my best guess: Heath Bell will be pitching in Texas in August, and there's a decent chance he could still rack up some saves there but will probably share end-game duties with Feliz.

Trade: Jurickson Profar, SS and Michael Kirkman, RP for Heath Bell.