Slugger Josh Bell brings Guardians needed power, protection

CLEVELAND (AP) — Whether in Washington or San Diego or the postseason, Josh Bell kept an eye on the Guardians last season.

So impressed by their scrappy, single-swinging style, Bell decided to join them.

Bell officially signed his two-year, $33 million contract with Cleveland on Monday, giving the AL Central champions a desperately needed power hitter to plug into the middle of their pesky lineup.

The deal includes a player opt out after next season, but Bell made it clear he’d like to stay around longer.

“In my mind, it’s an opportunity for me to go off for the Guardians,” Bell said, “and if things go well, I’ll be back again.”

Cleveland was in the market for a big bat after hitting just 127 homers last season, second-fewest in the league. The switch-hitting Bell belted 37 homers in 2019 for Pittsburgh and has 130 over seven seasons in the majors.

“He’s hit for prodigious power in the past,” said Chris Antonetti, the president of baseball operations for the Guardians. “He does a good job. He doesn’t swing and miss a ton. But for all the things Josh does on the field and why we think he’s a good fit there, he’s also earned a reputation as a phenomenal teammate and someone who’s a unifying presence in the clubhouse.

“That’s something that is exceedingly important to us.”

The Guardians see him as a run producer ideal for protecting All-Star third baseman José Ramírez, who was intentionally walked a league-high 20 times last season as teams pitched around him.

Bell will platoon at first base with Josh Naylor and be used as a designated hitter by manager Terry Francona. This will be Bell’s first time playing in the AL after being with the Pirates, Padres and Nationals, who dealt him to San Diego in August as part of the blockbuster Juan Soto deal.

Bell acknowledged struggling to find his swing after the trade, but he was encouraged by hitting .353 with a homer in the NL Championship Series before the Padres were eliminated in five games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

He has developed into a more disciplined hitter, and that approach makes him an ideal fit in Cleveland, where the Guardians were one of baseball’s biggest surprises last season in part because of their ability to string hits together.

“That’s just a sign of good hitting,” he said. “Teams can slug and win games, but when teams can string two, three hits together and defend and pitch and win games, that goes a long way in regards to winning divisions and a long way in regards to winning the close-fought games in the postseason as well.

“Hopefully I can add to that and add a little bit more power as well. If I can do both of those things, I’ll be the best protection in the world for José and we’ll see what kind of numbers he can put up next year.”

As for his own stats, Bell isn’t making any predictions. He laughed when asked if he could be penciled in for 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

“You’re gonna sell me short?” he said.

Bell believes the elimination of infield shifts next season will have a major impact on offensive numbers across baseball, and bring more personal success.

“The sky’s the limit for a lot of lefties with the shift going away,” he said. “You’ll get rewarded for hard contact to the pull side a little bit more, so I won’t shy away from that contact as much as I have in the past.

“Hopefully the numbers will jump in regards to the home runs again and the average will be there too. I don’t want to put any numbers on anything, I’m just going to work to be the best version of myself next year as I can, and when I look back at the end of next season, I know I’ll be proud.”


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