Miami Marlins fans around the world (or more like the greater South Florida area) rejoiced when learning of the three-way trade that sent "closer" Heath Bell and a good chunk of his contract to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday. The deal officially brought an end to the tenure of the player that near the end of this season was somehow known more for his off-the-field remarks than for his poor performances on it.
President of baseball operations Larry Beinfest summed up the deal more politely than most fans likely did.
"This should be a positive change for Heath and the Marlins," President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest said, in a statement. "After a disappointing 2012 season, Heath gets a fresh start and this move gives us clarity as we begin our offseason roster improvement."
Now that Bell will no longer be donning a Miami Marlins' uniform, Beinfest and general manager Michael Hill must now decide how to re-tool a bullpen that struggled mightily at times in 2012.
Hopefully, the club learned their lesson when shelling out Bell's huge deal last winter, as they must now find low-cost solutions for the 'pen moving forward. The current bullpen looks remarkably different than it did even as recently as Opening Day following the in-season trades of Randy Choate, Edward Mujica, and now Bell.
As it stands right now, Steve Cishek appears to be a lock to close games next season, with Ryan Webb and Mike Dunn helping to round out the remainder of the late-inning arms. Chad Guadin is a free agent, as is Carlos Zambrano, who could possibly come back to fill a long relief or spot starter role if he fails to generate much interest from other clubs. Wade LeBlanc figures to get a look at a spot in the starting rotation during spring training, while also having the chance to be a valuable lefty specialist/long reliever.
One precedent that the Marlins can look to for building a cost-effective bullpen is that of the Seattle Mariners. Aside from Brandon League, who was traded to the Dodgers at the July deadline, the M's bullpen didn't feature a single big-money arm, instead containing a smorgasbord of hard-throwing draft picks and scrap heap free agents. Tom WIlhelmsen, Lucas Luetge, Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor may not be household names, but they helped make up one of the best young bullpens in all of baseball that also happens to be, perhaps most importantly, extremely cost-effective.
The Marlins could and likely will take a look at some veteran bullpen arms in free agency, but don't expect any multi-year deals. Names like Mark Lowe, Jeremy Accardo and Mike Gonzalez could make some sense in the short term, and it wouldn't surprise me if those were the types of names we'll be hearing liked to Miami in the coming months.
With how much turnover we saw on the Marlins' roster over the course of 2012, it's impossible to predict what it'll look like on Opening Day 2013. But with Heath Bell now out of the picture, the organization can set their sights on re-tooling the bullpen that became a major source of frustration for their fans this season. There may not be an exact science or blueprint for building a good, low-cost bullpen, but it has certainly been done before. And if the Marlins want to remain relevant in what has becoming an increasingly competitive NL East in the future, they'll have to find a way to get it done.