CRUCIAL UPDATE (12/6, 3:46 p.m. ET): JOSH BELL IS A GUARD, PER HEYMAN:
Josh Bell to Guardians. $33M, 2 years. Opt out.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 6, 2022
Original article, including me being very wrong about his market value, as follows:
The Guardians are reportedly, unsurprisingly, at least keeping tabs on first baseman Josh Bell, according to Jon Heyman.
I like to imagine that Jon was looking over Mike Chernoff’s shoulder and saw Bell’s name written on a napkin along with several other baseball players and random coffee stains. Either way, it’s the closest we’ve come to a legitimate Guardians rumor so I’m going to run with it.
Bell, 30, is coming off a season split between the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres. His time with the former was superb as he slashed .301/.384/.493 with 14 home runs, but he struggled after being sent to the Padres along with Juan Soto. He slashed just .192/.316/.271 with three home runs and a 79 wRC+ in sunny San Diego. As Quincy Wheeler wrote in his excellent write-up of potential first-base targets, it’s probably not worth worrying about his poor performance in a new place for half a season.
Bell’s seven-year MLB resume contains three 20-home-run seasons, only one with a wRC+ below 100 (the Extremely Weird 2020 season), and a career 11.9% walk rate to 18.2% strikeout rate. He has always maintained a good-to-great hard-hit rate, and even though his xwOBAcon took a bit of a hit last year, he finished with a .344 wOBA — the third-highest of his career.
Back in November, MLB Trade Rumors estimated that Bell would pull in a four-year, $64 million deal on the free agent market. That, however, was before each team received a $30 million windfall from MLB selling its remaining share of BAMTech to Disney. It was also before teams were out there slinging $300 million contracts to Trea Turner, or $185 million to an oft-injured, 34-year-old Jacob deGrom. In all likelihood, he will make more than the projected $64 million, and he’s probably going to push more than four years as this is his last chance at a big payday. Luckily, the Guardians are positioned to offer every penny of that, plus the chance to play on a competing team at first base as long as his body is capable of doing it.
Unlike the potential hangup the Guardians might have in, say, acquiring a long-term catcher because they already have Bo Naylor, first base is wide open as can be.
Cleveland’s current first-base situation consists of Josh Naylor (who can’t hit left-handed pitching to save his life) and a gaping maw of nothingness. Bell, a switch-hitter who is only slightly worse against lefties but still above average, is about as perfect a fit as Cleveland could hope for in a free-agent package. In addition to bringing 20-home-run-power potential, he’s not a typical “three true outcome” power hitter. He hasn’t had a strikeout rate above 20% since the shortened 2020 season, and he makes the kind of consistent contact — even outside the strike zone — that the Guardians covet. Just with a few more dingers.
Jon Heyman simply stating that the Guardians have him on their “list” is far from confirmation that he will actually be signed, but it’s a glimmer of hope.