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Bell happy about preliminary negotiations

Bell happy about preliminary negotiations

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Bell happy about preliminary negotiations
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres All-Star closer Heath Bell said on Monday that his agents had a productive meeting last week with general manager Jed Hoyer about a contract extension.

Bell's message was succinct: He wants to re-sign with the Padres, he'll take a discount to remain in San Diego, but to do so he needs a long-term contract.

"My biggest thing is that I'd like three years," said Bell, who was slated to make his third appearance of the spring against the White Sox on Monday night at Peoria Stadium. "That's my biggest thing. If it means taking less money, then that's something I'll do to make sure I'm here for the next three years or more."

Hoyer's response was that the Padres would like to keep Bell, but he'd have to see how things progress this season on the field and at the PETCO Park box office. Bell can file for free agency at the end of the season, and if the Padres are not in contention, he knows he could be dealt at the July 31 Trade Deadline.

Hoyer, the Padres' general manager in his second year, confirmed that he had the meeting that included agents Seth and Sam Levinson and lasted from two to three hours, but he declined to divulge the details.

"It was a good meeting," Hoyer said. "I've had a good relationship with [the agents] for a long time and done a lot of different deals with them through the years. As far as what we talked about, I think Heath described it pretty well, but I'm not going to comment on any of the parameters. I don't think that's appropriate."

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Bell saved 89 games the last two seasons as the heir to Trevor Hoffman. He avoided arbitration this past Jan. 18 by signing a $7.5 million contract for the 2011 season and is the highest-paid player on the team. His 47 saves this past season were the second-highest total in the Major Leagues, one behind Brian Wilson of the Giants.

Unlike Albert Pujols, another pending free agent who cut off contract negotiations with the Cardinals for the season at the start of Spring Training, Bell said his agents and the Padres are free to talk at any time. Those talks won't be a distraction, he said, even if the Padres ultimately decide to shop him.

"I know from the business part that makes the most sense for this team," Bell said. "I know that Jed's doing the right thing for this organization. We knew that he wasn't going to keep Adrian [Gonzalez], but I think he's got a good plan for this organization. What it boils down to is that if we do well and the fans show up we'll be fine. But we could do well and if the fans don't show up there's no money to sign guys long term."

Coming off a surprising 90-72 season in 2010 that finished with the Padres missing the playoffs on the final day, Hoyer traded Gonzalez, their All-Star first baseman, to the Red Sox. But unlike what Bell is saying now, Gonzalez indicated he wasn't interesting in returning to San Diego when he became a free agent after the 2011 season. Gonzalez, who is making $5.5 million this year, is in the process of negotiating a long-term deal with the Red Sox.

For the Padres, season-ticket sales have been tracking upward, which certainly is positive. The team ended this past season with a $37 million player payroll. This year, that same payroll is expected to be north of $40 million even with Gonzalez no longer on the team.

Bell certainly could be an element of the Padres' future if everything falls into place.

"We certainly appreciate the way he feels about the city of San Diego and wanting to stay with the Padres," Hoyer said. "We certainly appreciate that he hasn't put any limit on things. It hasn't gone unnoticed how much he likes it and how much he's done for the community. I'm not going to talk about negotiations, but I really appreciate the way he's described the city and the organization. I'm glad he's done that."

Bell, 33, has had a rough spring. He strained a right calf muscle doing sprints the second day after pitchers and catchers reported to camp in February and missed the following three weeks. Since then, he's slowly built himself back into shape and now he's ready to pitch.

He's making no ultimatums, but then there's the reality.

"I hope it doesn't happen, but if we don't get a long-term deal, I'll be a free agent," he said. "I was happy, though, with what was said. I want to stay. They want to keep me. There was no money thrown out there, but it was a good conversation. They promised we were going to talk and we talked and I was pleased with it. Let's just see it how it goes."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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