When the Washington Nationals traded for Josh Bell on Christmas Eve last year with Eddy Yean and Wil Crowe going to Pittsburgh, you had to figure that the 2019 All-Star was a lock for two years in a Nats’ uni. Today, he is far from a sure thing to get tendered a contract because at a time the Nats need their veterans to step up — Bell has sat down, batting just .105 in the past week. At Fangraphs, Bell’s WAR of +0.2 is probably worth about $2 million to be kind, and not the $8 to $12 million his agent, Scott Boras, will push for as a 3rd year arb-eligible player.
At the end of the day, what is a player worth who has a .305 OBP, 15 doubleplays on his offensive statline, and a K/BB ratio of 2.6? Sure, he has 19 home runs and 60 RBIs, and that is what he was brought to D.C. for — to knock in runs. But in 113 plate appearances with runners-in-scoring-position, he’s only hit .243. His WAR value is lower than Alcides Escobar who was basically a freebie for the Nats in a partial season.
For general manager Mike Rizzo, he has a dilemma. First baseman with those stats are a dime a dozen. Seriously, look at the rest of the first basemen on the leaderboard and many of the names listed after him were DFA’d or optioned to Triple-A.
Bell, who turns 29 tomorrow, should be improving in the prime of his career. Yet his K/BB rate shows that he continues to be a sucker swinging and missing too often with a 29.3% chase rate at pitches outside of the zone.
Baseball is not an easy game. But the team has also tried to platoon Bell with Ryan Zimmerman to give Bell more favorable match-ups. On May 22, Bell was hitting .193 and then he caught fire from mid-June through last week when he slashed .295 /.356 /.562 /.918. If we could cherry pick 42-game stretches for all players, we could make them all look like All-Stars. But the baseball season is about what you did for the whole season, and what have you done for me lately.
With a “re-tool” in progress, Rizzo could look at in-house candidates such as Jake Noll and Yadiel Hernandez to play first base next year at league minimum dollars or look to the free agent market to choose from the bargain aisle like Rizzo did before with Matt Adams for $4 million a year and got a .786 OPS in his time with the Nats. Bell’s OPS today is .767 for comparison. You get the point. Bell has about 40 games remaining to pad his stats and make a case to be tendered a contract. If not, it is hard to justify tendering a contract. Maybe the fair thing is to offer a 1-year deal for fair market value.
A sure thing, no-brainer, has turned into a big question mark, and one of the off-season storylines.