Cleveland Guardians sign 1B/DH Josh Bell to two-year deal

Championship Series - San Diego Padres v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Five
Championship Series - San Diego Padres v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Five / Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians inked a deal with first baseman and designated hitter Josh Bell Tuesday afternoon, making him the first big free-agent signing for the team in at least two years. Pending a physical, Bell’s deal is for two years and is worth $33 million with an opt-out after the 2023 season.

The 30-year-old switch-hitter split last season between the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres. He totaled 17 home runs and 77 RBIs, slashing .266/.362/.422 through 156 total games. After beginning the season with the Nationals batting .301 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs through 103 games, he was included in the blockbuster deal that sent superstar Juan Soto to the Padres. However, he entered a slump to finish out the year, hitting just .192 with three home runs and 14 RBIs. Throughout the Padres’ run to the NLCS, he hit .250 with two home runs and five RBIs, helping them advance past the heavily-favored Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Bell was drafted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011 out of the University of Texas, agreeing on a rookie contract with a $5 million signing bonus, the highest out of any second-round pick ever. He worked his way through the minors until July of 2016 when he made his major-league debut. Through parts of five years in Pittsburgh, he made a name for himself as a young power bat, slashing .261/.349/.466 while compiling 86 home runs and 309 RBIs.

Then, Bell was traded to the Nationals after the 2020 season  and ultimately signed a $10 million contract for 2022. Though MLB has yet to go through its arbitration process this offseason, Bell stands as the second-highest-paid player on the Guardians behind José Ramírez, with Shane Bieber likely to rank ahead of Bell after arbitration.

The signing fills a hole Cleveland desperately needed to take care of last season: power. It also cements a more concrete lineup that manager Terry Francona can use, rather than platooning a cavalcade of Josh Naylor, Gabriel Arias, or Owen Miller at first base. The Guardians finished last season ranked 29th in home runs, 17th in RBIs and 21st in slugging percentage. They made it to Game Five of the ALDS despite hardly winning games with power.

However, Bell can slide into the middle of the lineup as someone who can provide plenty of pop. A 30-year-old with relatively little injury history, Bell can become a reliable bat in between fiery slap hitters. Likely the biggest reason for excitement is that Bell is a switch-hitter whose numbers are very similar regardless of which side of the plate he’s hitting from. He should give Naylor a relief at first base, sliding Naylor into the DH spot.