Bell, Bartlett on Cardinals’ radar

According to the New York Post, the Cardinals are looking closely at the Padres’ Heath Bell and Jason Bartlett.

It’s well known that the Padres are willing to sell off players this year and have plenty of young reliever talent to sell. That’s something the Cardinals are in urgent need of, but will the benefits outweigh the costs?

From all reports, it appears that the Padres are interested in getting Cardinals top prospect Shelby Miller and more in return for Bell and Bartlett and that has a lot of Cardinals fans (and I hope Cardinals management) balking at the deal.

Miller, 20, was the Cardinals first round draft pick in 2009 and was the #13 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball American’s annual top prospects list. He was also by far, the Cardinals top prospect. In his 5 starts since being promoted to Double-A Springfield, Miller has a 1.69 ERA in 32 innings with a 1.062 WHIP. In what many call the toughest jump in the minor leagues, from Single-A to Double-A, Miller has dominated more than he has at any other level.

Who are the Cardinals looking at?

Heath Bell, 33, took over as the Padres closer for the 2009 season from one of the most legendary closers in MLB history, Trevor Hoffman. Big shoes to fill for sure, but he did well, posting a major league high 42 saves in 2009. So far this season, Bell has a 2.53 ERA and has 21 saves for the Padres. No doubt he is very attractive to many major league teams.

Jason Bartlett, 31, was acquired by the Padres over the offseason from Tampa Bay. He was originally drafted by the Padres in 2001. The Padres dealt a few middle relievers to Tampa Bay who are currently in their bullpen and a minor league infielder playing in Double-A. Bartlett has struggled this year in Tampa, hitting .249 with a .317 OBP in 71 games and his defense is hardly an upgrade over current Cardinals shortstop Ryan Theriot. However, it’s Bartlett’s away splits that indicate why anyone would be interested in him. While playing on the road with the Padres, he has a .285 batting average with a .342 on base percentage. Also 17 of his 21 RBI have come on the road.

Getting Miller and wanting Miller are two very different things, and I would be highly surprised if the Cardinals dealt him at all. Right now Miller, along with fellow prospect Carlos Martinez, give the Cardinals two pitchers in their minor league system that are expected to be top of the rotation major league pitchers. It’s rare that any system can boast that, let alone the Cardinals’ system which was the 24th system in major league baseball.

Bell intrigues me, and certainly he would help bring some stability to a Cardinals bullpen. What concerns me is that Bell is a free agent at the end of the year, and I am very much against the Cardinals mortgaging the future in order to make a one year run. With Martinez and Miller, along with hopefully Wainwright and Garcia, the Cardinals are looking very dangerous from 2014 to the end of that decade out of the starting rotation.

If I were to trade for Bell, I would want to sign a long term deal with him to basically lock him up for the next 4-5 years. Unfortunately, that’s likely to be a $40 to $50 million commitment. With a potentially $200 million commitment due to Albert Pujols this winter, is that a commitment the Cardinals can take on?

I am not a fan of the Jason Bartlett at all. Basically he seems like a close of Ryan Theriot or Skip Schumaker. Hits high .200s, poor on defense. The infield is the same size regardless of where you play, and Bartlett’s defensive performance has been declining, having posted a negative defensive WAR in the last three seasons and is on pace for his worst defensive season in his career as he has a -0.6 defensive WAR halfway through the season. Not to mention that Schumaker, the player you’d likely take out of the lineup for Bartlett, has not been assigned an error at all in 2011 through 38 appearances at second base and his offense has picked up lately, hitting .290 in June and .303 in his last 10 games.

If we can acquire Heath Bell with a minimum of outlay, I can get behind that. I would not want to touch anyone who we feel will play a valuable part on the 2012 team. As much as I like him, Jon Jay‘s skill set should play very well in Petco Park as he is a high average, moderate power player. That average should remain constant regardless of where he plays.

Also considered available according to that NY Post report is Washington’s Tyler Clippard. At 26, Clippard is arbitration eligible and has a couple solid seasons already behind him for the Nationals. I’d love to see the Cardinals consider him as he is likely to be cheaper than Bell or other options. The Nationals are looking for a center fielder. Jon Jay can fill those shoes, and is having a great year this year. You also wonder if they’d be willing to send additional pieces along to potentially net Colby Rasmus, who I would deal in the right circumstances.

Trade season is always the most fun and most worrisome time for fans. All kinds of discussion can be generated over who to acquire and speculation over how your team would look with certain players. But there is always the fear that the minor league star, whose arrival you are eagerly awaiting for, will be dealt away.

Time will tell and the Cardinals are in desperate need to upgrade the bullpen. Since the beginning of June, the Cardinals have the worst pitching staff in the major leagues. That’s after being 7th in April and 17th in May.

Right now we have a situation where the starters are getting stretched because of the bullpen’s inability to consistently get outs and that has led both ends to be overused.

The pitching staff needs to turn it around if this year’s Cardinals team is going to make any noise down the stretch. Additions to solidify the bullpen should help the staff turn it around.

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