While Heath Bell will give the Marlins a closer with All-Star credentials, his immediate benefit is as an attention-grabbing opener.
That is, it provides credibility heading into next week’s Winter Meetings where the serious tussle for the top-tier free agents is expected.
By reeling in Bell with a reported three-year, $27 million deal (with a vested option for a fourth year) the Marlins showed they aren’t just grandstanding in tossing out exploratory offers with stone crabs to the big names without intent of following through. It provides the best evidence yet that the Miami Marlins have truly parted with their Florida Marlins past.
Marlins officials have repeatedly stated they would be more willing to spend when the revenue stream kicked in with the new ballpark. But each report of an offer to a Pujols and Reyes brought more skepticism than expectation. And rightfully so, based on how this habitually frugal franchise has operated.
Are the Marlins overpaying for Bell? Possibly. Only the Yankees and Phillies are as heavily invested in a closer.
Already caution is being sounded by those pointing out that Bell’s strikeout total declined last season as well as his effectiveness away from San Diego’s pitching-friendly Petco Park.
There was similar alarm last winter when the Marlins signed Javier Vazquez, whose velocity dropped off the previous season. After those concerns appeared well founded early in the season, Vazquez righted himself and was among the most effective starters in the major leagues over the final four months.
Bell, like Vazquez, is in his mid-30s. He also has a track record of success with more than 40 saves in each of the past three seasons. He’s not on the level of Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, but he solidifies a bullpen that was one of the Marlins’ strengths in 2011.
The immediate payoff will be if the signing helps convince other free agents that the Marlins are serious about putting a contender in their new retractable-roof palace. Because Bell alone doesn’t change their chances of achieving that.
They need to add starters and hitters who can deliver leads for him to protect.