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Wednesday, March 20
Operation Shutdown: What to do with Bell?

By Rob Neyer

I think you and I owe Derek Bell, and we owe him big. No, not $4.5 million big; fortunately for us, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the hook for that tidy little sum. But we do owe Derek Bell something, because it's men like him who help make baseball the wonderful pursuit it is.

Derek Bell is "colorful." He is -- sorry about this, but let's be honest -- one of the ugliest men in the major leagues. He used to wear pants so baggy he looked like a clown. And now he's announced "Operation Shutdown," a brilliant plan that will supposedly be implemented if Pirates management comes to the conclusion that they're better off with Craig Wilson and/or Armando Rios in right field.

"Operation Shutdown" is now a part of the vernacular, like Garry Templeton's wonderful "If I ain't startin', I ain't departin'." All of which is to say, someday we're all going to remember Derek Bell with great fondness. Without him and players like him, being a baseball fan wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

In the here and now, however, Derek Bell's existence raises a practical question, at least for the Pirates and their fans ...

What's better? Derek Bell sitting on his keister in the dugout, or Derek Bell sitting on his keister at home, waiting for the phone to ring? What makes this question more difficult for the Pirates to answer is that aforementioned tidy little sum: $4.5 million, otherwise known as "Bonifay's Folly." Or is that what we're calling the Pat Meares contract? I always forget ...

Paying Bell isn't throwing good money after bad, because the Pirates will probably have to throw $4.5 million in Derek Bell's direction no matter what they do. What they might be doing instead, if they keep Bell around all season, is throwing away a roster spot. Last year, Bell was a complete waste of space for the three-and-a-half months that he wasn't on the disabled list. This year, he's essentially the No. 3 option in right field, with Craig Wilson the No. 1 option, and Armando Rios, if he's healthy, the No. 2 option. And a discontented No. 3 option at that.

So why don't the Pirates simply release Bell? Because at this moment, there's very little reason for them to. At this moment, he's not wasting a roster spot. At this moment, there's still a chance the Pirates could dispose of his contract.

How? Well, I'm just speculating here, but for a moment let's imagine that somebody came to Pirates GM Dave Littlefield and knocked his socks off with an offer for Brian Giles. Say, a couple of young hitters and a 21-year-old pitcher with mid-90s cheese. "Fine," Littlefield says, "but ... oh, but I also need you to take Operation Shutdown off my hands." And if Littlefield is lucky -- OK, if he's really, really lucky, Powerball lucky -- his trading partner will agree.

Hey, it happened a couple of years ago. Dan Duquette wanted Rolando Arrojo for the Red Sox, but Dan O'Dowd supposedly would do the deal only if Duquette would also assume ownership of Mike Lansing ... and his $6.25 million contract for the following season. And Duquette, in one of his less thoughtful moments, agreed.

Granted, it's unlikely that Littlefield will find any takers for Bell and his silly contract, but today's the first day of spring and hope is in the air. But it's also unlikely that Dave Littlefield will simply release Derek Bell, at least not until the hope-filled spring turns into the sweat-soaked summer. Or until Bell says something else that seems specifically designed to get him released. In which case he'll get released.

Rob can be reached at And to order his books, including Feeding the Green Monster, click here.

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