Josh Bell did exactly what you'd expect Josh Bell to do. One half of the season was poor, while the other half was pretty good. Bell now has to face a decision: accept $16.5 million for 2024 or head back into free agency. With his 2023 season, either is possible.
Traded at the start of the rebuild in the 2020-2021 off-season, Bell started the year with the Cleveland Guardians. Going into the All-Star break, Bell hit a meager .230/.319/.381 with a .308 wOBA and 96 wRC+. Bell had an above-average 11.7% walk rate and 21.7% strikeout rate, but he did not hit for much power. Bell had just nine home runs with a .151 isolated slugging percentage.
But Bell seemed to find his groove once he returned from the break. His final 285 plate appearances of the season saw him slash .266/.332/.461 with a .341 wOBA and 114 wRC+. Those are eerily similar numbers to his 2017 rookie campaign when he hit .255/.334/.466 with a .338 wOBA and 108 wRC+.
Bell's second half to 2023 saw his power go in the right direction with a .195 isolated slugging percentage and 13 more home runs. But his plate discipline got worse as he walked in just 8.4% of his trips to the plate with a 22.1% strikeout rate. But neither his walk rate nor strikeout rate in the second half was poor.
Bell still is not a good defensive first baseman. He may have had the worst season with the glove this year. Even though he spent more time as a designated hitter than a first baseman and played the field for less than 500 innings, he still had -5 defensive runs saved and -4 outs above average. Over 1000 innings, he would have had -10 DRS and -8 OAA.
If Bell opts out, I don't think he will make more than $16.5 million in 2024. That might be a reason Bell opts into his current deal. However, Bell could get more money across more years, but at the expense of the amount he makes per year. A three-year deal worth $30 million gets him more than a one-year deal worth $16.5 million. The Pirates need first base help, and Bell could be a potential solution.