Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria gave Larry Beinfest the flexibility to make a splash this offseason. Unfortunately, it appears that the team's president of baseball operations may have taken that request a little too literally.
Late Thursday night, word spread that Heath Bell—whose physique is second only to Prince Fielder's in terms of cannonball potential among free agents—had agreed to a three-year deal worth $27 million to come to Miami. The contract also includes a $9 million vesting option for 2015.
There are many ways to illustrate why the move is absurd from the Marlins' perspective, but one is particularly eye-popping. Juan Carlos Oviedo (aka Leo Nunez) was worth 0.5 WARP as the Marlins' closer this past season, while Bell was worth 0.7 WARP to the Padres. Yet, while one is about to be non-tendered, the other is being guaranteed $27 million—and Oviedo's looming visa issues hardly justify the discrepancy.
The Marlins are clearly betting on the 34-year-old Bell returning to his 2009-2010 form, but the odds of such a rebound look long, and even in his prime, Bell was a 1.9-win player. Bell's strikeout rate plummeted from a career high 30 percent in 2010 to a career low 19.9 percent in 2011, largely because of a drop in his swinging-strike rate, from 10.6 percent to 8.3 percent. That regression wasn't a problem at Petco Park—where the dimensions depressed Bell's home-run rate and the Padres' defense helped him log a .261 BABIP—and it might not be a problem if the Marlins were staying in their old, generously-sized stadium. But if the new ballpark proves more hitter-friendly, Bell's 3.67 xFIP suggests that things could get ugly in a hurry.
The Marlins are almost certainly not done dealing, and another big name—perhaps Jose Reyes—should follow Bell to South Beach in the coming weeks. But if the goal this offseason was to maximize the team's newfound spending power, then Bell is a significant step backward. When it comes to reinvigorating a dormant, aggravated fan-base, there is little margin for error. And as much as the 250-pound Bell jumping into a pool piques the imagination, that's not the splash fans wanted to see.