Just an hour ago at Rays Colored Glasses, we were talking about how it made a lot of sense for the Tampa Bay Rays to call up Nate Karns in a long relief role. The Rays did make that move, and refer to there for why exactly they did so. However, the player we thought would be designated for assignment to make room was Josh Lueke. The Rays had other ideas, placing Heath Bell on waivers instead according to Marc Topkin.
It is hard to term Heath Bell’s tenure with the Rays as anything but a failure. The 36 year old right-hander managed just a 7.27 ERA in 13 appearances, and those appearances even came in low-leverage spots. But if nothing else, Rays fans have to tip their caps to Bell for three of his games: April 7th, May 2nd, and May 3rd. In the first game, Bell went 2.2 innings for the first time since 2007 to save the Rays bullpen in a loss to the Kansas City Royals. On May 2nd, he earned the win with 2.1 shutout innings, working out of a second and third, no out jam in the 13th frame with the help of a five-man infield. And then yesterday, just one day after throwing 43 pitches, he went out there and gave the Rays another inning to save other relievers for coming games. Heath Bell was never a reliever the Rays could trust. His abilities have deteriorated significantly from where they once were, and he looked like he will never be a late-inning reliever again. But while he was with the Rays, he did what he could to make himself useful before his time finally came.
It would be a major surprise if anyone claimed Bell off waivers because he is owed $5.5 million this season. With that in mind, it shows how badly the Rays are willing to win this season that they are willing to let that type of money go to a player who will not pitch another game for them. The Rays viewed the money as a sunk cost and were not going to let it affect their ability to put the best 25 men on their roster. Re-signing Grant Balfour and James Loney and extending David DeJesus and Yunel Escobar are the best examples of the Rays showing a willingness to go beyond their comfort zone financially to sustain success. However, this is another move in that vein, and the Rays have to be commended for doing it.
Why Bell and not Lueke? Both were ineffective pitchers and it likely comes down to the fact that Lueke has better stuff. Despite all his struggles, he is still touching 95 MPH while showing potential with his curveball and splitter. If he keeps pitching the way he has, though, he should be out the door soon as well.