The Miami Marlins signed Heath Bell to a three-year/$9 million deal last night. This is patently ridiculous: Bell is 34 years old, he’s coming off of a year in which his strikeout rate took a nosedive and his peripherals indicated pretty strongly that his saves and ERA were a mirage, and he’s a huge man that’s probably more likely to plummet from usefulness rather than slowly decline.
This is the latest in a line of ridiculous closer contracts that have been signed this winter, and with every one the response from me and lots of other Pirate fans is this: “Trade Joel Hanrahan.” While I think that the Pirates should be shopping Hanrahan right now and at next week’s winter meetings, I think that in the off-season it’s often easy to assume that every move takes place in a vacuum and it’s often pretty easy to get your perspective on these kinds of things mixed up.
Consider this: if you were the fan of a team that had a fair amount of money to spend and a GM that overvalues closers (note that this comprises a huge portion of the league), would you rather see that GM spend $27 million on three years of Heath Bell, or trade two decent-to-good prospects for Joel Hanrahan? The money is one thing. It might keep you from spending it somewhere else in a year or two, it might force a trade you don’t like somewhere down the road. But the prospects? They’re gone and they’re not coming back. In the winter when there are always plenty of free agent closers, doesn’t it make more sense to overpay a closer in terms of money rather than in terms of prospects? During the season as the trade deadline approaches is a different story, but over the winter I wonder how many teams would be willing to overpay for a closer in terms of prospects compared to teams willing to overpay for a closer in terms of money.
This sort of situation exists with everything during the offseason. When Ramon Hernandez signed with the Rockies for less money than Rod Barajas signed with the Pirates (though with a guaranteed second year instead of an option), there was some backlash on the Pirates for moving so quickly to pick up an inferior catcher. It’s true that that’s what happened. There’s a lot more to consider than just “Barajas or Hernandez,” though. At the time the Pirates signed Barajas, the old CBA was in effect, meaning that to sign Hernandez the Pirates would have to give up their second-round pick in 2012. Barajas had a couple of other offers on his table, meaning that if the Pirates didn’t move quickly he might’ve ended up elsewhere. And who knows how willing Hernandez would’ve been to play for the Pirates? If it cost the Rockies — who have a better chance at making the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 than the Pirates do — $6.5 million over two years, maybe it would’ve cost the Pirates $9 million. Maybe Hernandez would’ve told the Pirates he wanted to wait for the new CBA on the assumption that the penalty pick would be dropped for him (it was), specifically to see who else would be interested. Maybe while the Pirates waited for all that to play out, Barajas signs with the Dodgers and then they don’t get Hernandez anyway, so they end up with Mike McKenry catching.
I’m not trying to necessarily defend bad decisions here, just giving a friendly reminder that there are two sides to everything and that in many cases, the Pirates are going to be viewed as baseball’s leper colony until they turn things around.