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Heath Bell just signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Marlins.
Well, it certainly looks like he is. The Marlins appear to be serious about making a big-time splash this winter.
First came the hiring of Ozzie Guillen as manager, then recruiting trips to South Florida by some of the biggest names on the free agent market: Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle. Then last night, the Marlins consummated their first significant deal of the offseason, inking closer Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract.
Now, you can question the wisdom of shelling out $27 million for a 34-year-old closer who just posted the lowest strikeout numbers (7.3 per nine innings) of his career. But you can't question Loria's willingness to follow through on his promise.
And that bears close watching for Nationals fans, because suddenly there's another player in the NL East to go along with the Phillies and Braves. (The Mets, thank goodness, remain a mess and don't seem to know what they're doing right now.)
Is Miami, coming off a 90-loss season, a serious threat to win the NL East in 2012? Probably not, though if they really do go bonkers and sign Pujols or Reyes, you'd certainly have to rethink things. The Nationals are probably in a better position at this juncture, with more key pieces in place.
But over the long haul, the Marlins are going to be in the discussion, and the Nationals are going to have to contend with them not only on the field (where they've had all kinds of trouble in recent seasons) but on the open market. D.C. has a lot to offer prospective free agents. But so does South Beach, especially when the Marlins can showcase their state-of-the-art new ballpark instead of the monstrosity that was Sun Life Stadium.
The NL East could already stake a claim as one of baseball's toughest divisions. It's only going to get tougher in the next couple of years.