New York Mets News

What Could Have Been – Heath Bell

By Unknown author

As much as I love the Mets, the franchise has made a plethora of questionable moves over the years. While the infamous Tom Seaver trade has often been labeled as the “worst trade in Mets history,” there have also been many other minor moves here and there that I’m sure the organization wishes they could call “backsies” on. “What Could Have Been” will be an on-going series which will take a look back at these unfortunate transactions. Today, I will examine the trade that sent former Mets signee and current San Diego Padres star closer, Heath Bell, to the Padres in 2006.

Heath Bell was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 69th round in the 1997 Amateur Draft, but did not sign. A year later, he signed with the Mets, and began one of the more impressive minor league careers. From 1998 to 2006, Bell boasted a 3.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 IP, 2.5 BB/9 IP, and 108 Saves in various levels for the Mets. Considering the hefty right-hander only started two games in nine minor league seasons, he was obviously destined to be an arm in some team’s bullpen. Bell got his first taste of the majors with the Mets in 2004, when he posted an impressive 3.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10 K/9 IP, and 2.2 BB/9 IP in 24.1 IP. Despite his initial rookie success, Bell’s next two seasons were bleak in comparison–posting just a 5.38 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 IP, and 2.6 BB/9 IP. But sometimes, there’s more to examine than just stats.

Rick Peterson, then the Mets pitching coach, often clashed with Bell over his pitching delivery, and even labeled the 6’3″, 250 pound reliever as “out of shape” when Bell was ineffective. Similar to Peterson’s fait accompli with Scott Kazmir two years earlier, again a Mets pitching prospect was messed with and spat out prematurely. General Manager Omar Minaya decided to act on his pitching coach’s advice, and send Bell packing. On November 15, 2006, the Mets traded Heath Bell and reliever Royce Ring to the San Diego Padres for reliever Jon Adkins and outfielder Ben Johnson.

Still confident that his success in the minors would convert to the majors, Bell was happy to be freed from the critical Mets organization, and pursue greener pastures. In 2007, Bell won a spot in the Padres bullpen out of spring training, and was not only an effective reliever, but arguably, the most effective reliever in baseball. Bell posted a 2.02 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 IP, and 2.9 BB/9 IP in 2007. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Bell followed-up with a second successful season in 2008, posting a 3.58 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 IP, and 3.2 BB/9 IP. Even though the Padres had used trusted closer, Trevor Hoffman, for 14 seasons, they couldn’t ignore Bell’s budging talent and Hoffman’s dwindling reign. In 2009, the Padres let Hoffman walk, and inserted Heath Bell into the 9th inning.

In Bell’s first season as a major league closer, he recorded a league-leading 42 Saves as well as a 2.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 10.0 K/9 IP, and 3.1 BB/9 IP to boot. Again, in this past season, Bell recorded an electric 47 Saves, a 1.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 11.1 K/9 IP, and 3.6 BB/9 IP. Now at age 32, Bell’s name is in a small circle of trusted closers in the majors. While Heath Bell never would have succeeded under the Rick Peterson regime, it’s hard to believe that the Mets wouldn’t like Bell’s dynamite services in 2011.