Heath Bell was a sparingly used reliever pitcher in parts of three seasons with the New York Mets from 2004-2006. The results weren’t promising. In 108 innings of work, Bell was 1-5 with a 4.92 ERA. Already past his age 28 season, he wasn’t exactly a guy the franchise had hopes on developing much further.
On November 15, 2006, the team cut a deal with the San Diego Padres. Along with Royce Ring, Bell was shipped to Southern California for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. Adkins would pitch just a single inning for the Mets while Johnson would receive 30 plate appearances and hit .185.
The story of this trade doesn’t end there. It goes on to become of the more underrated bad deals in franchise history.
The Heath Bell trade in 2006 backfired on the Mets immediately
When a pitcher drops his ERA in half from one year to the next you know he either had a very bad season or an incredibly excellent one. In some cases, it’s both.
Bell didn’t just drop his ERA in half from 2006 to 2007. From the 4.92 career ERA he had with the Mets, he sliced it almost into a third during year one with San Diego.
Bell would pitch 93.2 innings for the Padres in 2007—nearly matching the 108 in three years with New York. He wasn’t just eating up innings either. Bell was effective, going 6-4 with a magnificent 2.02 ERA.
He had another good year in 2008 but not nearly as notable, going 6-6 with a 3.58 ERA. However, it was the following season in 2009 when Bell became a menace in Mets history.
From 2009-2011, Bell was a closer for the Padres. He led the league with 42 saves in his first season and was an All-Star each time. The three-year stretch included a 15-9 record, 2.36 ERA, and 132 saves. His 2010 season (6-1, 1.93 ERA, 47 saves) awarded him with the eighth-place finish in the Cy Young vote.
Those were darker days for the Mets. Bell’s time in San Diego was the time when the Mets were competitive but collapsing late in the season and the early days of their rebuild. All-combined, his Padres numbers include a 27-19 record, 2.53 ERA, and 134 saves.
For whatever it’s worth, only John Franco (276) and Armando Benitez (160) saved more games in their Mets career than Bell did in a short period with the Padres.
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A seemingly innocuous trade, Bell is one of those players that got away too quickly and for not much else in return. If there’s any consolation, he never did make it to the postseason with the Padres or any other club. It hardly makes this an easy trade to swallow.