Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 2/22/14
Heath Bell has spent the last few years bouncing back and forth from coast to coast like a ping pong ball: from San Diego to Miami to Arizona and now to Tampa Bay. "You'd think you'd sign a three-year deal and you'd stay in one place and not bounce around, but it's all right," the one-time right-handed closer told MLB.com on Friday in his new digs with the Rays at the Charlotte Sports Park. "Unfortunately I've been traded the last two years, but I keep going to better and better teams. The Rays are always in the playoffs so it's not a bad thing." Bell left the Padres for the Marlins as a free agent after the 2011 season and signed that three-year contract worth $27 million with a $9 million vesting option for 2015. Bell earned that deal by saving 132 games for the Padres in the three seasons after Trevor Hoffman left for Milwaukee in a huff because of a contract dispute. Bell struggled for the Marlins and the D-backs and hasn't regularly closed since his San Diego salad days. He said he's not sure what his role will be with the Rays, although evidently Tampa Bay hardly signed free-agent Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12 million deal for moral support. "I expect to close," said Balfour, who did just that for the A's, saving 104 games the past three seasons, including 38 for the repeat American League West division champions last year. "At least I hope so. That's why I signed here." Any doubt? "I've already declared that Balfour is the closer, so I'm getting that off the table," Rays manager Joe Maddon added unequivocally on Friday. Here's a thumbnail of Bell's recent history: He was going nowhere with the Mets when then Padres general manager Kevin Towers acquired him via a low-level trade in 2006. Bell developed in San Diego setting up for Hoffman and under the tutelage of the reliever with 601 lifetime saves. Manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley created a strong support system for the entire pitching staff and Bell thrived. After his move to Miami in 2012, Bell had mechanical issues closing for the Marlins. He had 19 saves for Miami, blew another eight and by midseason was summarily benched by then manager Ozzie Guillen. Bell was told to fend for himself. When that didn't work and after the highly-touted Marlins imploded in their new ballpark that season, an economic purge began and Bell's contract was traded to the D-backs, with the Marlins accounting for half of the money. Towers, who basically invented Bell, was now Arizona's GM and he projected Bell as a viable option to incumbent closer J.J. Putz, who never seems to make it through a full season without injury. When Putz went on the disabled list early in 2013 because of a right elbow strain, Bell stepped into the breach and saved 13 games in 15 opportunities through May and June, thus stabilizing what turned out to be one of the worst bullpens in Major League Baseball. But Bell pitched erratically after that and saved only two more games for the remainder of the season. After blowing four out of five second-half opportunities, he was used only eight times in various setup situations during the final month of the season as Brad Ziegler enjoyed some success closing. And so it didn't really surprise Bell when he was traded this past Dec. 13 to Tampa Bay in a three-team deal that included the Reds and netted the D-backs a pair of Minor League players. "I was a little surprised, but not too much because in September they stopped using me," Bell said. "It wasn't because they just wanted to use the kids. They were using me in the eighth inning and then all of a sudden I was pitching in really weird innings. I think the Rays were just interested in picking me up and K.T. [Towers] always says if there's a good deal out there he'll make a trade. It doesn't matter who it will be. Maybe I just didn't fit in their plans."
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