SAN DIEGO -- The new year isn't a month old, yet it's already shaping up to be a very good one for Padres' relief pitcher Heath Bell.
And it could get even better.
On Tuesday, the 31-year-old avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.255 million contract to succeed Major League career saves leader Trevor Hoffman as closer.
A new role, a new contract and now the possibility of a more lucrative future, as general manager Kevin Towers indicated Tuesday that a multiyear deal with Bell could be done sooner than later.
"We explored it in September for probably about a month. It's something we're still open to. Talking with his adviser, we said, 'let's agree on a one-year deal now.' I imagine that's something we will explore in the next couple days. I don't see this thing dragging out."
It's pretty heady stuff for Bell, who kicked around the New York Mets organization for parts of nine seasons, with a handful of stints at the Major League level, before landing for good in San Diego, where he admits, after two seasons here, that it feels like home.
"They're really happy with my performance on the field. I'm very happy to be a part of the Padres organization. I can now sit back and smile and say, 'I'm in the Major Leagues and I'm doing really well.' I'm pretty thrilled.
"Then again, I'm going into a new role as closer. I want to prove myself. I just need to keep doing what I've been doing. I can prove to the Major Leagues and everyone else that I can close and be a closer to reckon with in the league."
Bell had a 2.02 ERA in 2007 and a 3.58 ERA a year ago that was skewed by the five runs he allowed over his final three appearances. Bell has 173 strikeouts over 171 2/3 innings with only 58 walks over the past two seasons, leading the Padres to believe he'll be able to handle the closer role.
"I expect Heath to be no different in this role than he was last year. I look for him to be as successful in the closers role," Towers said. "He's got the makeup, he has the confidence. He has closed before. He's a strike-thrower has a plus breaking ball and no fear."
Aside from a new role, Bell is planning on taking a more defined leadership role with the team, especially among relievers, now that Hoffman has moved on to Milwaukee. Better still, Bell wants the bullpen, statistically the best in the Major Leagues two years ago, to regain its place among the best in the game."I'm going to come into spring and set the tone. ... I'm going to take pride in the bullpen," he said. "Now I feel like it's my bullpen since I'm the closer. One of my goals is to get our bullpen back to where it was as a force to be reckoned with. If you're going to be in the pen, you better keep the ball down and pump the strike zone."
Play Ball !!