Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bell Through the Papelbon Glass

You may have heard about Jonathan Papelbon's 4 year/$50,000,058 contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.  You may have also heard the Phillies initially offered incumbent closer Ryan Madson $44M for those same 4 years.  What does this all mean for Heath Bell returning to the Padres?

Using Fangraphs WAR (fWAR), and looking only at the years since Bell became the primary Padres closer, we find that Papelbon was worth 6.2 WAR from 2009-2011 (2.0 in '09, 1.2 in '10, 3.0 in '11).  Over that same period, and looking at only the free-agent closers, we get this list:
  • Bell 4.8 WAR
  • Madson 4.3 WAR
  • Broxton 3.7 WAR
  • K-Rod 3.0 WAR
  • Nathan 1.9 WAR
If you agree with Dave Cameron's supposition that free agents will be paid approximately $5M per win per year, the Phillies actually paid about the right amount - they're paying for 2.5 wins per year on that contract, and Papelbon has averaged 2.43 wins over the past six years.

It would also mean Bell's 1.6 average WAR over his past 3 seasons is worth about $8M per.  He made $7.5M last season and posted a 0.5 WAR season, so perhaps he would be satisfied with that.  Not likely, based on what the Phillies offered Madson.  Amaro's $44M for 4 years way over-estimated what Madson was worth based on past performance.  It will, however, likely set the market for the men on the above list - more so than what Papelbon got.

What's it all mean for Josh Byrnes and the Padres?  They're screwed.  If they offer arbitration and Bell accepts, he's likely to get between $11M and $12.5M next year, which would be about 25% of the Padres intended payroll for 2012.  Tying up that much of your payroll in a guy who hasn't thrown more than 70 innings since becoming the closer (or ~5% of the total innings Padres pitchers will throw in 2012) is ludicrous.  If they don't offer him arbitration they will lose the two draft picks they would get for Bell (he's a Type A free agent) when he signs somewhere else.

Bell's not coming back.  I believe the Padres will decline to offer him arbitration based on how this free agent market is playing out.

Update:  There's a story about Heath Bell in today's UT.  In the story there's a money quote:
Bell said accepting arbitration is still an option, although it doesn’t seem as strong an option as it was before.
“I have to weigh all my options,” said Bell. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. But it seems like there are going to be some very good options soon. And after everything that has happened with the Padres, I don’t know what is going on.
“They lost the general manager (Hoyer) and the guy (Jason McLeod) responsible for building the future Padres through the draft.”

That sounds like a man who's resigned to leaving.

The story also says the Padres would receive the two comp picks if he signs with another team, even if they don't offer him arbitration.  Can anyone confirm that's true?  Assuming it is, why in the world would the Padres offer Bell arbitration?

Update #2:  From Twitter, arbitration offer must be made in order to get the comp picks if a Type A/B free agent signs with another team.  Caveat - if the FA signs before the arbitration offer deadline (this year 8 Dec), then even if an offer was made the picks are forfeited.  Thanks to @PitchersHit8th, @JonDoble, and @Dathan7 for the assist in clearing this up.

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