The Guardians have agreed to a two-year, $33 million contract with the free agent first baseman. Josh Bell, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Bell, a client of Boras Corporation, will be able to waive the contract after the first season of the deal.
It’s a short-term but lucrative one-year deal for Bell, 30, who seems poised for a long-term commitment in free agency before finishing the season sluggishly after a trade to the Padres. The veteran opened the season on a tear with the National Champions and continued that production until late July, but after cutting .301/.384/.493 with the Nats (143 wRC+), Bell only went to .192/.316/ reached. .271 in San Diego.
The ups and downs are nothing new for Bell, who at many points in his career appears to be on the cusp of solidifying himself as a star-caliber slug, only to have fallen into a prolonged slump. For example, in the first half of the 2019 season, the former 61st overall draft pick broke out with a .302/.376/.648 hitline and 27 home runs. This made clear what remains the only All-Star nomination of his career, but after the Midsummer Classic, Bell stepped back with a solid but extraordinary .233/.351/.429 slash.
In 2020, his offensive troubles spiraled out of control when he landed his career-worst .226/.305/.364 hit in the shortened 2020 season. After this disappointing campaign, the Pirates undersold the former top contender by handing over the past two years of club control to the National Champions in exchange for justification. Wil Crowe and minor league Eddy Yean.
In one month of Bell’s tenure with the Nationals, he looked more the same, but in May he straightened the ship. From May 1, 2021 to this year’s trade deadline, Bell has been plated 945 times and has a strong slash of 0.289/.373/.489 with 39 big flies, 46 doubles, 11.5% walk rate and 15.3% hit rate. line recorded. that’s much lower than would be expected from a 6’4″, 255-pound first baseman with 30 homer strength.
Despite this massive build and clear raw power that Bell has, there has never been a truly consistent threat of power – at least not to the extent one might expect. The waterball season in 2019 was his only campaign of 30 homers (37 to be exact), and season-to-season home run totals otherwise ranged from 12 (2018) to 27 (2021).
It’s hard not to wonder what would happen if Bell committed to raising the ball more, but for any batter it’s easier said than done. Bell’s massive 49.9% ground ball rate is much higher than expected for a sloth his size, and he’s hit that target north of 50% in each of the last three seasons, and is a massive 55.7% ground ball in 2022. rate reached its peak. As of 2020, only five hitters in baseball have hit the ball more often than Bell – plus a confusing trait for a key hitter with raw power. Three different teams have failed to achieve consistent power generation from Bell, but the Guardians will do their best to unleash his maximum potential.
To be clear, Bell remains a well above average hitter overall, despite a lot of fielders and a career so far punctuated by peaks and valleys. Based on 2019, he’s 20% better than the average batter on the wRC+ metric, and his career score is 116 (16% better than the average) in that regard. Bell came in the shortened 2020 season with a lifetime .262/.351/.459 hitter and the only under-average on plate.
Another thing that captivated the guards was the fact that Bell, like most of their teams, was extremely difficult to beat. No team in baseball has been less than 18.2% fanatical last year than the Guardians – and no one was particularly close. Shooting just 15.8% in 2022, Bell needs to fit right in. He kept his strike rate at or below 19% every season except for that grisly 2020 campaign, and also had an excellent rally of 11.8%. 3406 career plate skins.
All of this aligns well with Cleveland’s overall offensive philosophy, and apparently Jose Abreu He was the Guard’s first choice – Cleveland reportedly offered him a three-year deal before signing at Houston – Bell adds some necessary punches that can still join Josh Naylor at the designated hitter and at the split time in the first stage. Bell isn’t a world-class defender at first, but he’s gotten his defensive ratings from below average to slightly above average in recent seasons, and the Guardians are absolutely confident he’s a reliable source for at least 15 to 20 homers. strong base percentage. he will attend Jose Ramirez Striking the switch, as a mid-row threat, he continues to provide plenty of balance to the Cleveland squad.
If things go as planned and Bell can avert another protracted drop to close the season, it will be a strong candidate to enforce this shutdown provision and return to the open market a year from now. As stated earlier, Bell’s overall offensive history is quite strong; He and Boras could have had a contract case of over five years if he hadn’t had San Diego fainting. Depending on the extent of Bell’s success, the Guardians may even make him a suitable bid upon withdrawal.
We predicted that Bell could still manage a four-year deal around this AAV in our Top 50 free agent rankings, but the two-year duration and takedown offer some of the best of both worlds. If Bell performs well, he could get a hearty salary in 2022 and try again a year from now for a longer deal. If not, at least this type of bat will have a second season around the going rate for the first slug. And even if he ends up knocking out next season, a strong 2024 performance could position him for a multi-year deal.
In terms of payroll, Cleveland had ample room to include it in the mix, despite its history of low payrolls. Bell is pushing the Guardians to just $35.3 million in guaranteed salary next season, assuming her $33 million guarantee is evenly distributed. Add another $35.7 million to estimated salaries for players eligible for arbitration (top tip to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) and complete a series of pre-arbitration castings, and the Guardians will sit around $87 million next season – at least that as at the moment.
The Guardians opened the 2021 season with a payroll of just $49.6 million, with $68.2 million to start the 2022 campaign, but they won AL Central on 22 and are only five years away from completing an Opening Day payroll of approximately $135 million. . At least on paper, there should be room for more additions, but this will depend on the willingness to further increase the payroll as they seem to recur in a weak division of ownership.