Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

When the trade deadline came and went, the Chicago Cubs weren’t the only team that was unable to deal away all the players they would have preferred. The San Diego Padres made a couple moves, but were left holding onto perhaps their biggest trade piece: closer Heath Bell.

Bell’s strong preference to stay in San Diego, combined with the Padres’ steep asking price (not to mention market competition on the seller side from their own setup man, Mike Adams), meant that, when July 31 came, the Padres couldn’t put a deal together sending Bell out of town.

But what about an August trade to a team like the Cardinals? Jayson Stark seems to think it could happen. I disagree. I don’t think Bell is going anywhere, and, even if he were, he’s more likely to go to the Chicago Cubs than any other team. I know. You’re confused. Bear with me.

First, here’s what Stark had to say about Bell:

Other teams now expect the Padres to make another attempt to trade Heath Bell this month, if only out of fear he could accept their arbitration offer next winter. And those efforts could begin as soon as this week.

Of course, the always-entertaining waiver rules would seem to make it impossible for the Padres to move Bell to Texas or Philadelphia, two of the teams that appeared most interested before the non-waiver trade deadline. But the collapse of the Pirates and Reds could put the Cardinals in perfect position to claim Bell and try to work out a deal.

Of the six remaining NL contenders, the Cardinals are tied with Arizona for the worst record (a half-game behind San Francisco). So if they slip behind those two teams again, they would have first dibs in the waiver order. But if the Cardinals heat up, those clubs could block Bell’s path to the other contenders. So the Padres will have to time Bell’s placement on waivers just right if they want to move him to St. Louis.

To my mind, Stark has it half right. The waiver rules indeed make it impossible for Bell to be traded to a team like Texas or Philadelphia. I think they also make it impossible for Bell to be traded to a team like St. Louis. Or even Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, for that matter.

Indeed, I think the only team the Padres to whom the Padres could trade Bell is … the Chicago Cubs.

I know what you’re thinking: why in the world would the Cubs, one of the worst teams in the league, and a team with a top-flight closer and setup man already, want to trade for another closer? And you’re right. The Cubs wouldn’t.

But the Cubs would absolutely want to claim Bell on waivers.

Remember, the waiver rules work thusly: the player placed on waivers (a requirement in order to make him tradable after July 31) is first offered to teams in his own league, in reverse order of the standings. That means, after the Astros, Bell would have to be offered the Cubs.

Stark concludes that the Cubs – and other teams long out of contention – would have no reason to claim Bell. Not so.

Bell is a free agent after this season, and makes just $2 million or so over the rest of the season (on a one-year, $7.5 million contract). He’s also going to be a Type A free agent, meriting two draft picks if he’s offered arbitration and declines. Bell says he loves San Diego – his family loves it, too. Do you think he’d accept arbitration from a team like, say, the Cubs?

Riddle me this: if the Cubs were offered Bell, essentially for free, don’t you think they’d be all too happy to take him and pay $2 million in exchange for two first round draft picks after the season, which would come when Bell undoubtedly declines arbitration? I certainly do. Or, that is to say, they certainly should.

I could see the Astros – a cash-strapped organization looking to dump salary at every turn – being unwilling to take on Bell’s salary and take the ever-so-tiny risk that he’d accept arbitration. I cannot, however, see every other team besides the “competitive” teams doing so. And first in line on that train are the Chicago Cubs.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the rules. There could, as always, be some strange contour to the waiver or arbitration rules that would make a claim on Bell unpalatable. But, as the facts are presently known, the Cubs would be crazy not to put in a claim on Bell.

That’s not to say the Cubs would actually get Bell, mind you. Waivers are revocable, and as soon as the Cubs put in a claim, the Padres would simply pull Bell back. That’s why it doesn’t seem likely that Bell will be traded, and, instead, it seems like the only team to whom he could be traded, would be the Cubs.

And, hey. You never know. Maybe the Padres would want to save the $2 million, knowing that Bell would accept arbitration in the Winter, costing them upwards of $10 million on Bell in 2012. Bell isn’t likely to be a Cub anytime soon (or ever), but, it seems to me they’ve got the best shot of any team outside of San Diego right now.

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