Marlins introduce new closer Bell at Meetings

Marlins introduce new closer Bell at Meetings

DALLAS -- Sweeping changes are on the way for the Miami Marlins. Their first major offseason acquisition was introduced on Monday at the Winter Meetings.

Three-time All-Star reliever Heath Bell officially signed his three-year deal with an option for 2015. The Marlins reached agreement with the 34-year-old closer late Thursday night. On Friday, Bell was in Miami taking his physical as details of his $27 million deal were being finalized.

After being with the Padres since 2007, Bell is changing coasts and embarking on a new beginning.

"They wanted me. That attracted me," Bell said. "I'm going to treat it as a brand-new organization. Brand-new stadium. New city. New logo. New look. But their goal is to win. It's a new organization for me."

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Bolstered by additional revenues generated from their new ballpark, the Marlins are now major players in the free-agent market.

Along with being an established star, Bell also is the first of several more pieces who join the rebranded organization.

On Sunday night, the team reached agreement on a six-year deal with All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes. Final details and a pending physical are on tap for Reyes, who is expected to be introduced on Wednesday in Dallas.

And on Monday, the Marlins met with Albert Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano.

"The owner, Jeffrey Loria, he really wants to win," Bell said. "He has a plan. It just seemed like he was going to be aggressive. For me, when I heard Miami was interested in me, I got a big smile on my face. They've got a new stadium. I heard great things about the ownership there."

The Marlins contacted Bell about a month ago, and they were the veteran's most aggressive pursuer. They also made the highest offer and guaranteed the most seasons.

"We recognize the importance of having somebody who can lock down the ninth inning," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "I think it's a component of championship teams. I think we've have had some good closers over the years, but none of them come with the credentials of Heath.

"He's had 40-plus saves over the past three years, and he's a three-time All-Star. We know firsthand how tough he is coming out to close in the ninth inning."

With San Diego in 2011, Bell was an All-Star who logged 43 saves in 48 opportunities. Since he became the full-time closer in 2009, the right-hander has paced the Major Leagues with 132 saves. In his career, which started with the Mets in 2004, Bell has 134 saves in 160 opportunities.

As Bell steps in as the new closer, the Marlins still plan to tender a contract to their 2011 closer, Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez). In late September, the Marlins placed Oviedo on the restricted list. The reliever returned to the Dominican Republic, and he is in the process of clearing up his identity issues.

Beinfest said as of now, the team intends to tender Oviedo a contract. There still is uncertainty as to when he will be cleared to play.

Even though the Marlins are looking to tender Oviedo, it doesn't necessarily mean the right-hander will be with the club on Opening Day. He could be a trade option, or the team could sign him and work him in a setup role.

Oviedo has one more season left in arbitration before he becomes a free agent. Bell, meanwhile, becomes the highest-paid reliever in Miami history.

The hard-throwing right-hander did have a dip in his strikeout totals last season, fanning 51 in 62 2/3 innings. In 2010, he had 47 saves in 50 chances, and he struck out 86 in 70 innings.

Bell attributed the drop to a left calf ailment he incurred while running sprints on the first day of Spring Training.

"I could pitch, and I could get people out," said Bell, when he worked through the calf discomfort. "I got off to a bad ratio. If you take the first two months, my strikeout ratio was down. If you take the second half, it was right where it was supposed to be."

Bell has logged at least 40 saves in three straight seasons. In Marlins history, they've only had four closers reach that plateau.

Armando Benitez holds the team's saves record with 48 in 2004, and the last Marlin to reach the benchmark was Todd Jones (40) in 2005.

By the time the start Spring Training comes around, Bell feels the Marlins will have a roster that can compete with the Phillies and Braves in the National League East.

"It's going to be totally different," Bell said. "We're now the Miami Marlins. People are going to be in the seats. It's going to be loud and exciting. There's going to be a buzz."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.