Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Best Bargain in Baseball is...

There are many different players to choose from this year. Contenders would have to include Adam Jones, Johnny Cueto and Tim Lincecum. This is not based purely on comparing production salary. Jones is only making $435,000, but he is 6th in the AL in Batting Average at .324 and top 20 in both runs and RBI. He was a 1st round selection in 2003 and expected to play like this someday. I am also basing this on what they were expected to do and how difficult is was for them to get to this point. Tim Linceum was also a 1st round pick and moved quickly to the Majors. No, my pick is Heath Bell, who is not only making a paltry $1.2 million, but he was never expected to be in this situation. He had to struggle just to stay in the Majors, let alone be a star.

He has been around professional baseball since 1998, when he signed as an amateur free agent with the NY Mets. This was a year after being selected in the Amateur Draft by the Devil Rays in the 69th round and refusing to sign. He did not make it to the big leagues for 6 years, until 2004. He pitched well in limited action, but struggled in 2005 and barely pitched in 2006. He was traded in a largely ignored trade after the 2006 season to the Padres with Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. Considering he had not recorded a decision the year before, the Padres couldn't have been expecting much.

He had his breakout in 2007, pitching 81 games and a 2.02 ERA, followed with 74 games and 3.58 in 2008. Then something happened that no one expected: Trevor Hoffman left. He did not retire, he left for another team. The Padres, not having a lot of money, chose to promote from within and held their breath (he had 0 saves and 7 blown saves last year). Many good pitchers have failed at being closers, but he was given the opportunity of a lifetime. He had 2 saves in his career, in 2007. Coming into this season, he 12 blown saves and 2 saves and he will still given the job.

With 18 saves as of June 13 , he leads baseball. He leads K-Rod, Rivera, Hoffman, Papelbon and Lidge. K-Rod is making $10 million, Rivera $15 mil and Hoffman $6 mil. His ERA is 1.37, one of best among closers. K-Rod is better as is Trevor Hoffman, who is at 0.00. His K/IP and K/BB ratio is better than K-Rod. Luckily for him, he only has a 1 year contract, so he can cash in. With only one year of experience, some teams may be reluctant to sign him to a big deal, but he will dramatically increase his salary nonetheless. In a few months, he has jumped from relative baseball obscurity to one of the most dominant closers in the game. For now, he is a great baseball story and the best bargain in the game.

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