Since recovering from COVID, Josh Bell has been a bright spot in a disappointing season. Now is the time to lock him up for the foreseeable future.
In a league full of twists and turns, the 2021 MLB season has yet to disappoint. From Shohei Ohtani, Salvador Pérez, and Vlad Guerreo Jr’s race for the AL home run title, to the San Francisco Giants resurgence, and the battle for the AL East this season, there have been many polarizing storylines.
However, multiple teams have fallen quite short of immense expectations that hung over the clubs. Most notably, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals both fell from grace and underwent franchise-altering firesales. Both teams shipped out fan-favorite veterans that were instrumental in the respective teams winning the World Series.
Washington flipped eight players, including four from the 2019 World Series team for 12 prospects. Juan Soto is now the man in D.C., with team President Mike Rizzo focusing the rebuild around him. Left in the wreckage from the Nats flurry of moves is Josh Bell, who was previously acquired to help provide protection in the middle of the lineup.
Only 29, Bell has one year left of arbitration before he will finally reach free agency, and the question arises. Should the Nats extend Josh Bell? Yes. Yes. And yes again.
After starting the season on the COVID list, Bell took over a month to rediscover his footing and swing. Through his first 53 at-bats, he was hitting .113, with two homers, five RBIs, and an OPS of .464. He struck out 17 times and only drew five walks, but once the calendar flipped to May, Bell finally found his footing posting a .795 OPS that month.
June saw the Nationals go 19-9 and Bell was a major reason why. While all eyes were on Kyle Schwarber and his home run onslaught, Bell was silently grinding away. He finished the month slashing .282/.363/.521, while adding nine homers, 15 RBIs, and posting an OPS of .884.
2019 saw Josh Bell break out, with the slugger hitting .277, 37 homers, 116 RBIs, and a .936 OPS. He took a major step back in 2020, slashing .226/.305/.364, but this year is hitting .252 with 25 homers, 78 RBIs, and an OPS of .804.
Alongside Soto, Bell was the only producing player that wasn’t shipped off during the team’s July firesale. The slugger has become an afterthought in D.C., but he has quietly been one of the most productive first basemen in the league.
2021 third-round pick Branden Boissiere is the Nat’s top first base prospect and is at least two years away. With no immediate answers in the farm, allowing Bell to walk next year would be a mistake. An extension wouldn’t break the bank and would keep some much needed protection for Soto in the lineup.
An important question comes to mind though. Would Bell want to stay? He spent the first five years of his career in Pittsburgh before being traded to D.C. On arrival, he believed he was playing for a contender, but those plans came crashing down. Having yet to reach the playoffs, Bell might opt to sign with a contender unless he belives in the team’s rebuild.
Regardless, Mike Rizzo needs to sit down with Bell and do his damndest to have the slugger stay in D.C. for the forsseable future.