The next time this blog throws a log in the firepit, he'll also burn a notepad in honor of Heath Bell.
The Loveable Kook jazzed up the bland Padres. At times, he wore thin with Old School types and a few teammates, but beneath the goofiness was a guy who loves baseball, knows baseball and believes baseball should be entertaining. Above all, he was a heck of a pitcher for the Padres. His toughness during the pennant races of 2007 and 2010 was special. Bell didn't scare. That's what most impressed me about him.
Over the years, I've seen several of San Diego's sports teams wilt on the bigger stages. Bell, I think, would've done well in the playoffs or a World Series. I hope he gets a chance to find out, and if he does, I hope his fastball is still humming. The Padres not getting to a postseason in his five years wasn't his fault. For how little it took to get him in a trade and his value well above cost, it's an organizational failure that the club never reached the playoffs with Bell.
The three-year, $27 million bet the Marlins are making on Bell looks pretty risky. Then again, scared money doesn't win the World Series. I think back to the 2003 season, when the Marlins were ridiculed for using young talent to acquire relief pitchers. At the time, several teams were ahead of them in the wild-card race. Relievers are an erratic species, generally speaking, and overly lusting for them has burned many teams. But the relievers the Marlins invested in were vital to their run to the playoffs and the World Series victory over the Yankees later that year.
As for the Padres, I think draft pick compensation was the way to go here, although I've always believed Bell when he said he'd take less money to stay in San Diego. In fact, a few offseasons ago he and Kevin Towers agreed to a discounted two-year deal but Sandy Alderson nixed it. Let's say Bell would've accepted $25 million to stay with the Padres. I'd probably still rather have the two draft picks, given where the Padres are. I doubt the closer's performance will be the difference between making the playoffs or not in 2012.
I also think Petco National Park accentuated by National League rules is Miracle-Gro for relief pitchers. That's not to say Bell will be easily replaced. Bell was more than a "fungible" reliever. He wasn't a Petco creation, either, although I think the ballpark helped him build confidence as a young reliever and lessened his wear and tear over the years.
This, I believe: A reliever who can limit walks and keep the ball out of Petco's left field seats is on his way to having a fair measure of success. Again, that's not the same as being an elite reliever.
Is building an effective bullpen in San Diego one of the tougher front-office tasks in baseball? It shouldn't be.
It'll be interesting to see how long it takes the Padres to develop another strong closer. We're used to seeing them here. Since 1994, when Trevor Hoffman was getting his feet wet, the Padres have usually received good or great seasons from whoever was closing for them. Even in 2003, when Hoffman was recovering from shoulder surgery, Rod Beck filled in by cashing all 20 of his save chances. What did it cost the Padres to get Beck? Only a few dollars. He was pitching in Triple-A for the Cubs and begged them to release him. The Cubs didn't ask the Padres for any players. As for Bell, the Padres didn't have to do a lot of arm-twisting to get him from the Mets. The way Towers told it, Omar Minaya, then the Mets' GM, was happy to move Bell and was eager to get surplus outfielder Ben Johnson.