Both Eric and Matthew posted articles that referenced a rumored trade of Jason Bay for Heath Bell and John Buck. The trade would basically be a swap of bad contracts with the hope that an intangible "change of scenery" would improve player performance. Eric and Matthew both expressed skepticism that this trade will actually happen (which I agree with) and they seemed to express skepticism (Matthew openly) that this trade would be a good idea. While I don't think this trade will actually happen, I do believe it makes sense for both sides.
The salaries next year are a wash so that should be a non-factor in the decision. Since the Mets are woefully thin at organizational catching depth, adding any warm body could be helpful. The real question then becomes the impact of committing to Heath Bell's salary for 2014. Since Bay is owed a $3 million buyout anyway, the net salary addition is only $6 million. (I know I'm saying "only $6 million" with the Wilpons, but nonetheless)
In 2014 the Mets will have a ton of payroll flexibility. (Cot's Baseball Contracts is the basis of my info) Even if you assume extensions for Wright and Dickey at $20 and $10 million per year, they will only have about $45 million in salary commitment with buyouts included. Factoring in the difference between Bell's salary and Bay's buyout that would push the number to $51 mil.
As of now the Mets organizational plan is based around the continued development of Harvey, Wheeler, and at least one of Familia, Mejia, or Gee. With Neise signed and a Dickey extension (hehe) you can have a very formidable rotation for around $17 million. The plan also relies on the continued development of Ruben Tejada and Ike Daivs, plus the development of at least two of Valesespin, Neiuwenhuis, Den Dekker, Flores, Lutz (though I'm not sure at what position) or Lugares being productive everyday players. If two of these players come through along with David Wright, and the others at least being good enough to be backup or platoon players, you would have a minimum of five position and a large chunk of your bench filled for around $33 million. Add the $9 million you would be taking on for Heath Bell plus Santana's buyout and that leaves about $30 million in payroll flexibility to fill out a bullpen, upgrade a few positions and round out the bench without raising payroll from the level it's at now. Even if Bell is sunk cost, two years from now they will have the payroll flexibility to replace him, or at very least, not have his salary prevent upgrading at another position. If Bell does regain his form, you have a "Proven Closer " already signed.
Salary issues aside, I believe there is a better chance Bell can become more productive than Bay. In order for Bay to "figure things out" he's going to have to see regular playing time. That means he hurts the team on a regular basis. Even relegated to a platoon he is going to get 3-4 PA's when he plays and his middling defense doesn't justify the outs he is likely to make at the plate. With a reliever, there is a better opportunity to "figure things out" when it less detrimental to the team. Bell could be used for mop duty in blowouts or as a two inning bridge when a starter comes out early and at least have a chance to show he can be useful when the outcome of a game is not in doubt. If he "figures it out" he can be worked in to higher leverage situations.
Similarly, I think there is a better chance that as a pitcher, Heath Bell can "reinvent himself" during the offseason. What is the likelihood that Jason Bay realizes his power is gone and tries to become an opposite field, slap singles hitter? And even if he does, how much value does a singles hitter with no speed and mediocre defense have? On the other hand, there are power pitchers that figured out how to be control and movement pitchers as their velocity declined. It may not happen much, but at least if it did happen the transformation would have some value.
For the Marlins it's simple. No matter what they don't get salary relief next year. But for an organization that is perpetually concerned about payroll, having $9 million in relief for 2014 is huge.
I'm not going to hold my breath and hope this trade materializes. It probably won't. Even if it does the great likelihood is that it just ends up being a blah trade that has very little benefit or harm next year. But given the payroll flexibility the Mets will have in 2014 and their organizational goal of building around young, cheap, homegrown talent that year, I think the potential reward is worth the relatively small increase in committed salary.