In introducing Josh Bell to the nation’s capital, following the 2-for-1, Christmas Eve deal with the Pirates that landed the Nationals a new first baseman, Washington’s GM Mike Rizzo said he had plenty of history with Pittsburgh’s five-year vet and 2011 second round pick, who the Bucs selected out Dallas Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, Texas.
“It’s an exciting day for the Nationals with the acquisition of Josh Bell,” Rizzo told reporters.
“He exemplifies everything that we’re trying to do here in Washington.
“We’re a championship-caliber organization trying to get the best and brightest people that we can.”
What about Bell made him an ideal fit in D.C.?
“Good character, dignity on and off the field and in the community, and we think that we’ve achieved all that with Josh,” the GM added.
“Been a fan of his from a distance since his days at Jesuit and there in the Dallas area when he was a high school kid and through his days in Pittsburgh. So, we couldn’t be happier to introduce Josh Bell, our new first baseman, and happy to have him in the fold and trying to win another championship.”
In addition to Bell’s character and make-up, Rizzo said he was also excited about adding a switch-hitting, power threat who can hit somewhere in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup.
“It makes the manager very, very comfortable to have a guy that can switch hit,” Rizzo said, “... especially successfully from both sides. You have a big power switch-hitting threat it makes the game easier to manage on that side, and being as balanced as Josh is between right and left we feel that only enhances his value on the team and in a lineup.
“Makes the lineup longer, makes the bench even longer, and it gives the manager a lot more options to manage that game, so I think that when we look at Josh, that was a big piece of what we were trying to do. He fits in that middle of the lineup somewhere.”
Bell’s 2020 splits were unimpressive (.241/.311/.386 vs RHPs; and .180/.290/.300 vs LHPs), but he put up an impressive line vs RHPs in 2019 (.297/.387/.615), while struggling against LHPs (.224/.313/.448).
Overall, in his career, Bell has a .271/.360/.485 line vs RHPs and a .232/.315/.410 line against LHPs.
“Being a switch-hitter only adds to his value as far as keeping the lineup long,” Rizzo added, “... making it more manageable for the field manager, and [Bell is] a guy that we have high expectations for, and we’ve looked at a lot of tape on him. I know [Hitting Coach] Kevin Long has studied him since we alerted him that this was going to be a possibility and he’s ready to touch base with Josh and put a plan together and get working with him really soon.”
Bell said he was equally excited about joining a new organization after spending nine years with the organization that drafted him.
“New team, new journey, new opportunity to play the game I love. So I’m excited for this new chapter and I can’t wait,” Bell told reporters.
Moving away from an organization that finished at or near the bottom of the division over his five major league seasons, to a club that won it all in 2019, and has played meaningful games in September in five of the last nine seasons, is a welcome change.
“Really can’t imagine being drafted by any other team, just because now I’m a first baseman and they were the team that gave me the opportunity, moved me, and really allowed me to develop there,” Bell said.
“It wasn’t always pretty, but I was able to put the work in and I was able to be slotted into the lineup, so definitely thankful.
“It was tough the last couple years, didn’t finish the way that we’d like to, but extremely grateful for the team that drafted me, and I’ll definitely root for them in the future.”
Josh Harrison, who played eight seasons with the Pirates, and was teammates with Bell in Pittsburgh between 2016-18, said the new Nat would benefit from a change of scenery.
“He actually reached out to me that day, excited, reaching out, asking questions,” Harrison told MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Brad Lidge in a December 30th interview.
“But more than anything, breath of fresh air for him. I’m not saying that he didn’t want to be in [Pittsburgh], but sometimes a change of scenery can be a good thing.
“And given that I know the situation that he’s in, he wants to win, and we got a good chance of winning, everybody coming back healthy, and he’s a guy that’s going to be able to help.”
Bell said that in spite of the Pirates’ struggles once he reached the majors, and as the club’s traded off pieces over the last few seasons, he tried to remain focused on the task at hand, instead of worrying if his time would come to get dealt as well.
“I try to focus on things between the lines,” Bell said. “Don’t really try to play GM. I think that there’s a reason why there’s a separation with those regards to the game.
“For me, I was just trying to focus on being the best player I could be. Obviously players that start and finish their careers in the same spot are few and far between.
“Those are — obviously they don’t come along that often, but in regards to me, I was not really focused too far off in the future, but just wanted to be ready whatever jersey I was putting on to be able to compete in-between the lines.”
Seeing how he fits into the Nationals’ lineup and mix has the veteran infielder excited to get down to West Palm Beach, FL for the start of Spring Training.
“Obviously, me being a middle of the lineup guy, you look at the guys that are probably going to hit in front of me,” Bell said.
“You look at [Trea] Turner and [Victor] Robles and [Juan] Soto, and especially after the years that they’ve had in the past it’s definitely exciting,” he continued, “... anybody that can steal one or two bases just like that, and a guy like Trea and Soto and Robles, you obviously want speedsters hitting in front of you.
“You obviously want the guy that can turn a shallow fly ball into a sac fly, and have no contest on ground balls with the infield in running home on contact, so I’m definitely excited to hit behind those guys.
“I’m excited to share the diamond with those guys, and get my first win with those guys, so it starts in a couple months.”
The Nationals also added Kyle Schwarber on a free agent deal a few weeks after trading for Bell, prompting the following assessment of the lineup from manager Davey Martinez in an interview on MLB Network Radio earlier this month.
“We got an early Christmas gift with Josh Bell and now we just added Schwarber,” Martinez said, “so our lineup is looking good with — obviously we have Trea [Turner], [Juan] Soto, then we get Starlin [Castro] back, we’ve got some of our young guys, [Victor] Robles, [Carter] Kieboom, we feel pretty good right now. With that being said, I know that [Rizzo] is always busy, he’s always looking to make us better. We communicate quite a bit throughout the week, and there’s still a lot of available players out there, but we feel confident with the two guys we just signed moving forward, so it’s a great start, and looking forward to Spring Training.”