In June of last season, general manager Kevin Towers and the Arizona Diamondbacks extended relief pitcher David Hernandez for two additional years, giving him $3.25 million dollars to boot.
This season, amidst the reliever’s copious struggles, questions arose about a potential influx of pressure to prove himself worthy of the figure or a potential loss of drive following the extension.
After payday had come and gone, did Hernandez lose his survival instinct and, with it, his competitiveness? Did he feel bogged down by the seeming need to show that he deserved the money?
No way, says bullpen-mate Heath Bell.
“That’s just a media thing,” Bell said Sunday, when asked about his teammate. “I really think that’s just something the media says.
“Everyone that I know who signs a contract, doesn’t try to do anything more the next year.”
In the discussion, Bell was clear — money wasn’t to blame for Hernandez’s forgettable season.
“Let me put it this way,” he went on, “when you don’t have a contract, if you don’t do well, they’re going to get rid of you. So you’re going to bust your butt. Now that you have a contract, if you’re busting your butt to live up to the contract, it’s the same thing as busting your butt when you’re trying to get a contract. It’s just different wording.”
“So I believe that’s just a media thing.”
Bell, who signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Miami Marlin before the 2012 season, knows what it’s like to hear that money is the root cause of a performance problem.
Despite tallying 134 saves and a 3.06 ERA over his first eight seasons in the major leagues, Bell struggled profoundly in his first season after signing that gargantuan contract, blowing eight of his 27 save opportunities, while compiling a 5.09 ERA in 73 appearances for the Marlins.
“A lot of people said that about me last year,” he explained.
“But I had a lot of off-the-field issues last year that I wasn’t going to talk about.”
Bell said he thought the same was true for Hernandez’s 2013 struggles.
“You’ve got to have confidence in yourself, which I think David started lacking, started questioning,” he said.
“He’ll go down to Triple-A, build that and he’ll come back here and be better than he ever was.”