In a flurry of activity Tuesday that involved three teams, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired two players they desired for some time when they landed potential closer Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan.
“It’s always nice to be liked, that’s for sure,” Hanigan said.
The Rays received the right-handed Bell and cash considerations from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league pitcher Justin Choate and a player to be named later.
They picked up Hanigan from the Cincinnati Reds, while the Reds acquired pitcher David Holmberg from the Diamondbacks.
Hanigan, 33, quickly signed a three-year contract extension with a team option for 2017 that guarantees him $10.75 million.
Bell, 36, will earn $9 million in 2014 as part of a three-year, $27 million contract he signed in December 2011 with the Miami Marlins. The Marlins will pay $4 million toward that contract as part of the deal they made with Arizona when they traded Bell to the Diamondbacks in October 2012. The money received from the Diamondbacks in Tuesday’s trade reduces the Rays financial obligation to Bell to just north of $5 million.
The addition of Bell, who has 168 saves during his 10-year career, likely ends Fernando Rodney’s tenure in Tampa Bay.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, though, did not anoint Bell as the Rays next closer.
“We feel like he can pitch high-leverage innings,” Friedman said. “What that means, we’ll take the time in spring training, look at the personnel we have in our bullpen and try to figure out the best way to put those guys in the best roles and positions to have success.”
Bell, who has a $9 million option for 2015 that becomes vested if he finishes 55 games this season or a combined 100 games during the 2013-2014 seasons (he finished 32 last year), said he’s willing to accept any role in the bullpen.
“I kind of feel like I have a shot at winning the ninth-inning job,” he said. “But I see my job as coming into spring training and showing them what I can do. They’ve always said I don’t back down from anybody. I go right after everybody. So I feel like I want to help the team out the best way I can. I feel like it all depends on what I do in spring training for what kind of role I have.”
Bell had 15 saves last season with the Diamondbacks. He lost the closing job to Brad Ziegler during the second half of the year.
But Friedman said Bell is a pitcher he has “liked for quite a while” and jumped at the chance to add him to the bullpen.
“He’s still got really good stuff,” Friedman said. “He missed a lot bats last year, commanded the zone better than in years past, just a lot of good indicators that we feel like can put him in the position to come here and have a lot of success.”
Bell admitted to having some off field “issue” during the past two seasons that he wouldn’t divulge but said are resolved and said he sees this opportunity as a “fresh start.” He welcomes the opportunity to be a member of the Rays manager Joe Maddon’s relaxed atmosphere and compete in the American League East.
“These guys are having a blast,” Bell said.
Hanigan, who has already requested video so he can get begin learning the Rays pitching staff, is also pleased to be joining the Rays.
“These guys won (92) games last year. They got a good thing going down there,” Hanigan said. “I’m going to try and do my part and see what we can do.”
Hanigan was acquired on the heels of the two-year, $4.5 million contract signed Tuesday by Jose Molina, With Jose Lobaton out of options, the Rays have three major league catchers.
“We still need to work through that,” Friedman said. “It’s not against the rules to have three quality major league catchers, although in the past, with us, it may have looked like it. Our mentality is to acquire major league catching when we can and be aggressive when accessing it. We’re happy to be dealing from a position of strength. This situation will sort itself out naturally.”
Hanigan is an above-average defensive catcher who excels at calling a game, framing strikes and controlling the running game. He has thrown out 42 percent of base stealers over the past two seasons, a rate well-above the league average.
His offense was hindered last season by wrist and thumb injuries, but both are not expected to be an issue in 2014.
A career .262 hitter (he batted .198 last year) with a career .359 on-base percentage, Hanigan has a career .276 batting average against left-handers.
“(Hanigan is) a high-contact, good decision-making, grind out at-bats, high average hitter, handles left-handed pitchers extremely well,” Friedman said. “A good offensive profile for what he brings potentially behind the plate.”
As with Bell, Friedman said he does not know what role Hanigan will fill. With Lobaton seemingly the odd-man out, Hanigan should split time with Molina.
“I think, just like we’ve always done it, we’ll figure out matchups and we’ll figure out what makes the most sense on any given night, but we feel like he makes our team better, and so whether that’s 70 games, 80 games, 90 games 100 games, I don’t know yet,” Friedman said. “We’ll wait to kind of figure that out as the season gets under way.”