The Rays have acquired Heath Bell from the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three team deal, apparently. According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, this is something of a salary dump.
To shed some/most of the Heath Bell contract, Dbacks are giving up something else, not inheriting another bad deal.— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) December 3, 2013
Salary dumping to the Rays? That's strange. Heath Bell a bad deal? That's debatable.
According to Cot's on Baseball Prospectus, Heath Bell is set to make $9 million in 2014, and his contract has a $9 million vesting option that will activate if he finishes 55 games. Miami will pay $3 million of the salary and Arizona will pay $500 K. Bell will be 36 years old this season, and with the diamondbacks he posted a 4.11 ERA, which was an improvement on his 5.09 ERA from the year before. If that's as deep as you want to go, you should definitely be sad, because through that lens Heath Bell is an albatross (and because you're living in the baseball stone ages). The rest of you, let's talk about peripherals. All stats are from FanGraphs.
Recently, Bell has been a pretty good pitcher, but he's had two different things go wrong for him. He was humming right along (if you ignore the higher walk rate in 2010 that was more than offset by a ridiculous strikeout rate) until his 2011 season, when his strikeouts dropped precipitously. Undeterred, the Marlins gave him a big contract and they got a pitcher with a respectable ability to miss bats but with too little control to truly be a relief ace. They shipped him out after one season, only to look like fools when he rebounded with his new team. Right?
Wrong. Bell did in fact rebound in Arizona and posted the best strikeout to walk ratio since he broke into the league in 2004, but it was obscured by a completely new problem: the home run. While Bell has only allowed a well-below average HR/FB of 8.9% over his career, it grew to a nasty 18.5% in 2013. That meant that despite posting one of the worst FIPs of his career (4.10), Bell posted the his best xFIP since 2010 (3.08).
So what do we know about HR/FB? According to the FanGraphs Glossary (created by former DRaysBay editor Steve Slowinski), HR/FB begins to stabilize (to reach a point where what we see is probably about half skill and about half statistical noise) at 400 fly balls. In 2013, Heath Bell allowed only 65 fly balls. It would be beyond foolhardy to look at that ugly number and project it to continue.