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Miami Marlins Dump Heath Bell and His Salary On the Arizona Diamondbacks In Three-Team Trade

The Miami Marlins were quick to dispose of Heath Bell in a salary dump trade, sending him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team deal that brought back minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera from the Oakland Athletics.


The Miami Marlins wasted no time overhauling their biggest mistake in the 2012 offseason, as the team sent Heath Bell in a three-way trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks and received minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera in return. As outlined earlier today, the three-team deal also sent Oakland Athletics shortstop Cliff Pennington to the Diamondbacks and sent Chris Young from the Diamondbacks to the A's. The Marlins are also sending over $8 million of Bell's remaining $21 million salary according to Juan C. Rodriguez of the Sun-Sentinel.

What is the impact of this trade for the Miami Marlins? Clearly, this deal has less to do with evaluating the move in a wins analysis sense. When it comes to how many wins the Marlins are sending over to Arizona versus how many they are receiving from Oakland, the difference is fairly menial and unlikely to be the major factor in the deal. What is more important for the Marlins is the effect of Bell's departure in two areas: the clubhouse and the coffers.

On-Field Performance

Clearly, the Marlins are trading a superior major leaguer in Bell (by the way, this phrase has not been said in a long time) and getting an inferior product in return in Yordy Cabrera. For all of Bell's shortcomings, he did improve over the course of the second half of the season. Recall his numbers from this article comparing his second half to Steve Cishek's.

Pitcher, Second Half IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Heath Bell 26 23.8 6.7 3.13 3.10
Steve Cishek 22 1/3 25.8 10.3 4.03 2.47

I mean, those are comparable numbers indeed. But Bell was still likely worse than Cishek, if by a hair, in the second half. At best, he may have been a tad ahead thanks to his decrease in walks. But as mentioned before, he did not do enough to justify regaining the closer role he lost by midseason thanks to an ugly first half. It did not help that, in the few instances that Bell received high-leverage innings, he failed to provide clean innings and even blew his lone additional save opportunity in the second half.

But while that improvement was expected just from simple regression, it does not mean that Bell should put up a 3.13 ERA going forward. This is the second straight season in which Bell has struggled with diminished strikeout rates, as his rate of 20.6 percent is not a whole lot better than last year's career-worst 19.9 percent. And the walk rate of 10.1 percent, the highest of his career, does not bode well for next year, even if much of that came within the first month or two of the season. Overall, I would not be surprised if projection systems for next year expected Bell to put up closer to a 3.60 ERA given his ERA and FIP from this season.

Now, in a vacuum, that is not a particularly poor projection. It certainly is not at the level of a closer, but it is worth a weak setup man or at least a valuable member of a major league bullpen. That is at least worth something.

The returning piece, Yordy Cabrera, has lost a lot of luster since being drafted in the second round in 2010 by the A's. Cabrera has hit a combined .230/.297/.351, mostly in Single-A and High-A. As Eric Weston mentioned earlier:

Some scouts felt that Cabrera's 6-foot-1, 205 pound frame would force him to move to third base or right field, but the A's have kept Cabrera at shortstop. Unfortunately, his bat has yet to emerge.

At this stage, Cabrera will be at around the average age of a player at High-A, which means that he does not have the leeway of age on his side. This will be an important season for Cabrera, as a lack of development in 2013 essentially spells the end of any hope of performance in the future. Essentially, the Marlins bought a lottery ticket with very little chance of success at this point.

Salary Dump

Of course, the deal did not occur in a vacuum. The Marlins did not trade Heath Bell, the sensible bullpen option, for Yordy Cabrera, the potentially hapless infield prospect. The Marlins dealt Heath Bell, the potentially $5 million asset who is being paid $21 million over the next two years. Bell was likely a terribly sunk cost given how far "underwater" he was an asset for the Marlins. Just trading him away for nothing would have been an acceptable move for the Fish.

Instead, the Marlins received a marginal, free return and agreed to pay $8 million of his remaining salary. Even if you take $8 million away from his salary, Bell is still a net negative trade asset of $8 million, and that is if you do not consider him a complete collapse for the next two years. Given that the Marlins theoretically would have had to pay at least $16 million of Bell's deal to even receive nothing in return means that, from a salary perspective, this is a clear win for the Fish.

Clubhouse Presence

Given all of the hoopla surrounding Bell's struggles, he did not help himself in 2012 by getting into problems in the clubhouse as well. Bell was well noted for placing blame on a lot of other folks on the team and its staff for his issues in 2012. The latest incident regarding finding Guillen "hard to respect" caused an uproar at the end of the year that ended up solidifying Bell as a clubhouse problem and the rest of the Marlins as firmly in the camp of Ozzie Guillen and the team.

Bell's on-field performance was improving, but his clubhouse presence could not have been positive. Even when things were on the upswing, he was still arguing with Guillen, questioning John Buck's pitch-calling, and calling out the camera crew of the "The Franchise," all in addition to saying that he was at fault for his problems. Unfortunately for Bell, his lack of performance was exactly the sort of thing that was mostly his fault and not everyone else's, unlike the problems of the team as a whole.

How many wins will the Marlins from getting rid of a player the Marlins Diehards crew called the "biggest clubhouse cancer in team history?" I have no idea, but the effect is at worst neutral and at best positive, so tack on that additional benefit for the Fish.

Overall, the Marlins have to be extremely happy that they were able to get away with a good deal of robbery by dumping most of Bell's salary onto the Diamondbacks. Unlike Hanley Ramirez, another recent salary dump, Bell had zero or negative trade value going into this offseason, and the Marlins were able to get rid of him while only being on the hook for a little more than a third of his remaining salary. Even with the returning prospect being a likely non-factor for the rest of his career, the Marlins still came out way ahead in this trade.