The Nationals haven’t approached first baseman Josh Bell about working out a contract extension, the 29-year-old said Thursday a few hours before their Opening Day game against the New York Mets.
Bell, acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2020-21 offseason, has one year left on his contract before he hits free agency.
“Nope, but we’ll see what happens,” Bell said when asked if the Nationals had reached out about keeping him in Washington long term. “I’d be open for the conversation, for sure. I love D.C. but just trying to stay focused on ball for now.”
Bell is coming off a season in which he hit .261 with 27 home runs and an .823 OPS over 144 games as the Nationals’ primary first baseman. He began the season on the COVID-19 Injured List and struggled to get going at the plate once he returned. After he did heat up, however, he became a force in the middle of the Nationals’ lineup.
Washington GM Mike Rizzo said in a press conference at the start of spring training that the club wouldn’t consider initiating extension talks with Bell until after they had settled on a salary for the upcoming season. The two sides avoided arbitration, reportedly agreeing on a $10 million salary for Bell in the final season of his rookie contract.
The Nationals have stated their intention to contend this season, but projections peg them as a fifth-place team in the NL East following their trade deadline fire sale from a year ago. Bell has the potential to be one of their most highly sought-after trade candidates if the Nationals do fall out of the playoff race by the Aug. 2 deadline.
Despite entering the season with so much uncertainty surrounding his future, Bell is focused on being a productive player for the Nationals in 2022. If he can replicate his numbers from last season or return to his 2019 All-Star form, the veteran infielder will be in for a significant pay raise — whether from the Nationals or someone else.
“I feel like as baseball players, we know that…every time that we put on a jersey it’s one step closer to a time where we can’t put it on anymore and that’s the way I play the game,” Bell said. “I’m not worried about the end of the season, I’m worried about today and not taking anything for granted.”