Heath Bell walked into the visitor’s clubhouse at AT&T Park on Wednesday, and many of his young San Diego Padres teammates figured he was already long gone after the San Francisco Giants claimed him off waivers.
Leave it to the burly All-Star closer to play the part of prankster and have a little fun with some of the younger players who didn’t quite understand the waiver-wire process.
”The big joke in the clubhouse is, ‘You’re still here?”’ Bell said, chuckling. ”I said I couldn’t find the Giants clubhouse.”
While his name circulated on flat-screen televisions in both clubhouses, Bell and seemingly everybody else in the ballpark remained skeptical about whether he will actually end up with the defending World Series champions.
San Diego has 48 hours from the time Bell was claimed to decide whether to work out a trade for the three-time All-Star, allow him to be claimed or pull him back from waivers. The Giants already have one of baseball’s best bullpens — albeit banged up at the moment — and it would seem unlikely that general manager Brian Sabean would give up anything of value in a trade.
The move could be just to block NL West-leading Arizona, under first-year general manager and former Padres GM Kevin Towers, or other contenders from landing Bell. San Francisco began the day two games back of the Diamondbacks.
Asked if Bell would still be with the club after the deadline, Padres manager Bud Black said he would be ”extremely shocked” if his closer wasn’t.
”Albert Pujols was put on waivers. Justin Verlander was put on waivers. I’m sure they got claimed, too, right?” Black said. ”I don’t know, but every general manager I’ve known tells me that every player has put been put on waivers.”
Bell, too, already was making plans for the team’s series at Arizona beginning Friday.
”I feel like I’m going to Arizona with the Padres and going to do fantasy football on our off day and hang out by the pool and go see a couple movies and go sweat my butt off when I go run in Arizona for Friday’s game,” he said.
The home team is certainly familiar with the right-hander.
Bell converted his 35th save in 39 opportunities in Tuesday’s 7-5 win at San Francisco. He also was chosen by Giants manager Bruce Bochy for the All-Star game, famously sliding onto the infield grass before the NL manager handed him the ball in relief.
The 33-year-old Bell learned that the Giants won the claim on him when a radio station called him for an interview. After a summer filled with trade talk, Bell was hardly surprised.
”I feel pretty honored. They’re the world champs, they want me to be part of their organization,” he said. ”But nothing has happened right now. I’m a Padre, and I’m pretty happy about that.”
San Francisco’s stellar bullpen is certainly fractured.
There is no timetable for when Wilson will get on a mound and test his inflamed right elbow, although there’s a chance he could return in early September for the stretch run. Wilson has declined to discuss his injury. He led the majors with 48 saves last season, while Bell had 47.
The Giants are more confident that setup man Sergio Romo, also on the disabled list with an elbow injury, will be back soon. Bochy said he hadn’t talked to Sabean yet and wouldn’t speculate about the team’s plans.
”That happens around baseball, so it just happened to make news,” Bochy said. ”That’s what it is right now. When that happens, a club claims somebody, some times those two clubs talk and make a deal. I’m not talking about this as much as what happens with other deals.”
Bell has been clear all season that he enjoys playing for San Diego and doesn’t want to go anywhere.
While he will likely decline arbitration to become a free agent after the season, the Padres wouldn’t lose Bell for nothing. They would likely get compensatory draft picks if he walks.
Bell also has kept open the possibility he would re-sign with San Diego, even if he landed in San Francisco, or somewhere else, by the end of the week. In the meantime, he couldn’t help but poke fun at how odd it would be to switch clubhouses in the middle of a quick two-game series.
”It would be easy. It wouldn’t be that far,” he said, smiling. ”I know where the locker room is. It would be a little weird just because we’ve had so many battles over the years.”
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco and AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this story.