Tag: Grant Balfour

Rays Spring Training Report: Full Update of Surprises, Busts and Injuries

The Tampa Bay Rays are two weeks away from the start of the 2014 season.

They entered spring training looking for a fifth starter, final reliever and final bench player to fill their Opening Day roster.

Even though the roster was essentially set before Grapefruit League began, there is still a lot of incentive for players to put forward great effort in the exhibition games.

The primary reason is that you never know when a need will arise that will require a minor league player to move up to the majors. Jeremy Hellickson’s surgery is a perfect example of a position that was filled that turns into an immediate priority need to fill.

Players not on the 40-man roster or in the organization’s farm system utilize spring training to try to earn a job. It is a job interview for many players with only few openings available annually.

Spring training also marks the highest level of optimism for franchises and fan bases.

For the Rays, there are high expectations set for new acquisitions including catcher Ryan Hanigan and relievers Grant Balfour and Heath Bell. There are even higher expectations for returning players to improve from the previous season, such as pitchers Chris Archer and Matt Moore.

On the other hand, there are lesser known prospects that have low levels of expectation that put together great performances in the spring. Stephen Vogt was one of those players for the years a few years ago in spring training and earned himself a spot on the Opening Day roster after an injury to Luke Scott.

Based on the level of expectation comes the titles of surprise players and busts in spring training.

Here is an update of the surprises, busts and injuries so far this spring for the Rays.

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5 Realistic Moves the New York Mets Should Have Made This Offseason

Playing armchair general manager is often met with skepticism. In an ideal world, the New York Mets would have outbid the Seattle Mariners for Robinson Cano’s services, subsequently adding one of the premier offensive threats at a notoriously light-hitting position.

But given the Mets’ small-market approach, inking Cano was never in the realm of possibility—even if the team did buy him lunch (per the NY Post’s Ken Davidoff).

Yet, there were a number of low-cost, high-reward acquisitions other teams executed that the Mets could have also made.

For instance, despite posting comparable three-year averages to many of the highest-earning starters this offseason, Paul Maholm only garnered a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Given the mediocre Plan B rotation options behind Jenrry Mejia, the Mets should have invested in Maholm.

Read on to see the five realistic moves the New York Mets should have made this offseason.


All statistics and payroll information sourced from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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What the Addition of Grant Balfour Would Mean for Washington Nationals

Recent speculation indicates that the Washington Nationals are interested in acquiring Oakland Athletics closer Grant Balfour, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports

The 36-year-old relief pitcher is coming off of his first All-Star appearance and recorded a career-best 38 saves in 2013.

Balfour would likely provide a closing alternative to Rafael Soriano, who recorded 43 saves for the Nats in 2013 and is entering the final year of his contract. Soriano, whose 43 saves ranked in the top five among MLB pitchers, also blew a relatively high six save opportunities. 

Further, with arbitration eligibility looming in the next couple of seasons for such players as Bryce Harper and Craig Stammen, along with back-loaded contracts for Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, Washington will likely go to great lengths to ensure that Soriano does not appear for more than 53.0 innings in 2014—so as to avoid the vesting of his $14 million option for 2015.

With the addition of Balfour, Clippard will likely remain in his role as the eighth inning setup guy, and Drew Storen will become expendable.

Storen, at 26 years old, never quite recovered from the 2012 blown save in Game 5 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Stanford product posted career worsts in 2013 for both ERA and WHIP with 4.52 and 1.362 respectively. 

Balfour may be relatively old, but a bullpen can never have enough quality arms. The Sydney native also represents an interesting trend that’s seemed to be developing since the acquisition of Doug Fister in early December.

The 2012 Nationals team that made history by generating the franchise’s first-ever playoff berth was full of talented young players and veterans that, for the most part, didn’t have much playoff experience.

Fister started and put up meaningful numbers in appearances in both the 2012 and 2013 ALCS for the Detroit Tigers.

Balfour has appeared in the playoffs in seven different seasons with three different teams, along with one ALCS and one World Series. Further, he has the edge that only comes from being an experienced veteran—as displayed by his war of words with Victor Martinez in the 2013 ALDS.

Though Storen may have better upside at this point in time, being that he’s 10 years younger, he doesn’t have the experience that comes from playing for a decade or more.

Balfour, despite carrying the tread that comes from a long career, can get the job done. He won’t have to stay long, but his experience and leadership may be just what the Nats have been missing. 


All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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Is Grant Balfour Now a Viable Buy-Low Option on MLB Free-Agent Closer Market?

After trading away closer Jim Johnson in early December, the Baltimore Orioles locked in on free agent Grant Balfour as their ideal replacement.

They even reached a two-year agreement with the right-hander this past Tuesday, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Only a routine physical exam stood between them and an official deal.

However, executive vice president Dan Duquette stated that Balfour’s performance on the exam didn’t meet Baltimore’s standards, according to Kubatko:

“The Orioles were disappointed that we couldn’t complete a contract with Grant Balfour,” Duquette said. “The reason is the club’s not satisfied with the results of the physical exam.

“We would never say never or close the door, but we’re turning our attention elsewhere for now to look at some other options to try to staff our team and try to build a contending team for 2014.”

Now, the other 29 MLB teams have an opportunity to get him. Question is, what exactly will they be getting?

Per Kubatko, Duquette wants “to protect confidentiality,” so we don’t know which of Balfour’s bodily regions is damaged, nor can we infer what the severity of the injury is.

The only irrefutable statement that can be made about the fiery Australian is that he’s among the best closer candidates remaining:

*Finished 2013 on the disabled list (shoulder strain).

If whatever ails Balfour is benign enough to heal prior to Opening Day 2014, then he could still be line for a multi-year deal elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there’s a possibility that he’s battling a legitimate injury. Notice the contrast between the first four and final two months of his age-35 season:

Balfour threw a lower percentage of strikes down the stretch, and his shaky results reflected that. That’s worth noting because command issues occasionally arise when an injured pitcher modifies his delivery to avoid using a sensitive muscle group.

Then again, Balfour’s velocity barely varied at all throughout the summer. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastballs averaged between 93.57 and 94.37 miles per hour during every month of the regular season.

Balfour fans can breathe sighs of relief. If there were a torn ligament in his elbow or shoulder, for example, we would expect to observe reduced heat.

Nonetheless, the Orioles must’ve uncovered something substantial. The fact that Duquette expressed no willingness to renegotiate with Balfour after valuing him at $15 million mere days ago indicates that he probably isn’t fit to take the mound at the moment.

Perhaps Balfour’s heavy workload toward the end of 2012 has caught up to him.

The Oakland Athletics used him on five consecutive days from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 in order to ensure an AL West title. In each of those last four appearances, he completed a full inning on zero days’ rest. That’s a streak matched by only 10 pitchers so far this millennium!

But so much for that theory. Balfour tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s physically in All-Star form:

Although Balfour doesn’t consider himself a buy-low candidate, the fact remains that Baltimore backed away from him, thus shrinking his list of potential suitors. As a free agent, he’s fighting for the best contract possible, and other teams recognize that, so they’re more likely to trust Duquette‘s words over his.

Prior to that aforementioned stretch of August/September sloppiness, Balfour had spent the previous few years flaunting above-average swing-and-miss stuff and complementing it with solid strike-throwing ability. Consistency distinguished him from Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney and everybody else who’s still on the market.

Therefore, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners (among others) shouldn’t hesitate to inquire about Balfour and haggle for a discounted-yet-incentive-laden deal.


Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.

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MLB Rumors: Fernando Rodney Worth Investment for Baltimore Orioles

He may not have been their first choice, but signing Fernando Rodney would be a good use of money for the Baltimore Orioles.

Per Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun, the Orioles seem to be balking on Grant Balfour and shifting focus in their closer search to Rodney.

Baltimore had scheduled a news conference to introduce Balfour on December 20, but Connolly reports the team has since cancelled it. That said, general manager Dan Duquette is still slated to deliver some news on the Balfour situation.

The closer spot opened up for the Orioles on December 2, when they traded Jim Johnson to the Oakland A’s for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later, also per Connolly. The writer states that Johnson’s arbitration ruling, awarding him more than $10 million, prompted the organization to make the move.

As previously reported by Eduardo Encina and Connolly, the Orioles reached an agreement with Balfour, most recently a member of the A’s, for a two-year, $15 million contract, so Balfour would have gotten about $3 million less in 2014 than Johnson was slated to receive.

However, Balfour’s physical revealed an unspecified shoulder issue, which raises major red flags given his previous injury history.

From Encina and Connolly:

The severity of any injury to Balfour’s shoulder is unknown. But before Balfour, who converted 62 of 67 save opportunities for the Athletics over the past two seasons, emerged as a dependable late-inning arm, he missed two full seasons in 2005 and 2006 after reconstructive elbow and shoulder surgeries.

Over that same two-season span, Fernando Rodney registered 85 saves in 95 opportunities. At age 36, he is a year older than Balfour but without any major injuries in his past to concern a potential suitor.

What could bother Baltimore—and what likely prompted the O’s to pursue Balfour before Rodney—is the new target’s asking price.

If Baltimore gives in and signs Rodney for basically Johnson’s proposed price tag, it would be a loss for the front office only in the sense that its plan backfired.

While Johnson just turned 30 last season and has saved 50 games two years in a row, he’s had injury concerns in his past as well. The Orioles may be taking a half step down for the same price by going from Johnson to Rodney, but they’re landing the more secure option.

They’re also making the right call to search for a more expensive option in lieu of Balfour rather than a cheaper one.

After 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles have won 178 games over the last two, 101 of which Johnson saved. The team leans on a strong bullpen, and the closer position is integral to Baltimore’s status as a playoff hopeful.

The Orioles tried to avoid it, but some spending is necessary to compete in the AL East. With the Boston Red Sox coming off a World Series title and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays consistent playoff threats, Baltimore can’t afford to let its strengths decay, even if strength costs.

An eight-digit Rodney contract might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the need substantiates it. He might be pricey, but the Orioles won’t mind paying him to save games in October.

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Is Grant Balfour an Upgrade over Jim Johnson for Baltimore Orioles Closer Role?

The Baltimore Orioles have a new closer, and one thing we know is that he’ll be cheaper in 2014 than their old closer would have been.

But better? I wouldn’t be quick to count on it, no.

First, the news itself. The Orioles had been circling veteran right-hander Grant Balfour as a replacement for departed closer Jim Johnson, and Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported on Tuesday that the deal is done:

Because of the deferred money, Balfour’s contract is realistically worth $15 million. But even with that considered, the Orioles have saved themselves a fair amount of cash for 2014 in going from Johnson to Balfour.

Johnson, who was shipped to the Oakland A’s for utility man Jemile Weeks in early December, is projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to earn a little under $11 million in 2014. The Orioles will be paying Balfour about $4 million less than that.

So yeah, hooray savings. And as far as the last two seasons are concerned, the numbers say that the Orioles are saving money on Johnson’s identical twin. Via FanGraphs:

The major edge Johnson has on Balfour since the start of 2012 is in saves. He’s saved 39 more games, which would be a huge deal if we were in, say, the 1980s.

But we’re in 2013, and saves don’t matter that much anymore. What matters is everything else up there, where the gaps between the two pitchers’ performances are minuscule. Most notably, there’s virtually no difference between Johnson’s and Balfour’s WARs.

This is one lens we can look through, and it makes the switch of Johnson for Balfour out to be a fair one. Maybe not an upgrade, mind you, but certainly not a downgrade.

Another lens we can look through is one that focuses on how Johnson and Balfour have gotten the job done in the last two seasons. If we simplify it to a handful of telling categories, we see:

There are two main takeaways. One is that Johnson has been better at not hurting himself with walks, but he’s been easier to hit. That’s the risk that all ground-ball pitchers run, I’m afraid.

Balfour, on the other hand, has essentially been a typical closer: a bit wild, but also hard to square up. Relative to Johnson, he’s missed more bats, been much harder to get a hit against and a little harder to take deep.

I don’t take it as a given that Balfour’s going to stop being good at missing bats any time soon. He may be getting up there in age, but Brooks Baseball can show that his fastball’s velocity and whiffability are trending up rather than down. 

But now we come to the catch, which is that the numbers Balfour has been enjoying over the last two seasons simply aren’t made to last.

The .229 BABIP Balfour has compiled is way too good to be true, especially in light of that 23.3 line-drive rate. His career rate says he’s more of a .260 BABIP guy, and that’s the range he eventually ended up in last season after his BABIP inflated from .237 in the first half to .305 in the second half.

Per FanGraphs, the Steamer projections for Balfour see a .298 BABIP in his future for 2014. That seems all the more likely now that he’ll be pitching in the AL East rather than the AL West, and there’s another thing about that switch that could burn Balfour.

Consider these home/road splits from Balfour’s time with the A’s:

It’s not totally significant that Balfour gave up a few extra fly balls on the road. What’s really significant is that more of the fly balls he gave up on the road ended up going over the fence.

And that isn’t all that surprising. Balfour was playing his home games at a huge ballpark in O.co Coliseum, after all. According to ESPN’s Park Factors, it was the No. 25 home run haven in MLB last season. That’s pretty much par for the course with Oakland’s home park.

To boot, Balfour’s road splits were likely saved from further harm in regular action at Safeco Field and Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Up until the Houston Astros brought Minute Maid Park into the mix, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was the only home run haven to be found in the AL West.

Balfour is headed to an entirely different situation in the AL East. He’s been a member of the division before, sure, but at its one and only pitcher-friendly park in Tropicana Field. Rogers Centre, Yankee Stadium and, yes, Oriole Park at Camden Yards were among the 10 best home run havens in 2013. Fenway Park wasn’t, but it was a top-10 home run park as recently as 2012.

The short version of all this: The switch from Johnson to Balfour will probably be better for the Orioles on the business front than it will be for them on the field.

If you prefer to buy into how the two have performed over the last two seasons, the switch is not so much an upgrade as it is the avoidance of a downgrade. But if the move from O.co Coliseum to OPACY and the move from the AL West to the AL East result in Balfour being more hit- and home run-prone, his cheaper salary is going to be really his only redeeming quality.

Maybe Weeks will turn back into the 1.7-WAR player he was as a rookie in 2011, thus making the Orioles happy that they effectively switched out Johnson for two A’s castoffs.

But given that Weeks has been an afterthought for two years, that’s probably not happening. Johnson’s departure being worth it will more than likely have to involve Balfour outperforming what can be fairly expected of him.

Here’s recommending he turn his rage dial to 11.


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Grant Balfour and Orioles Reportedly Agree on 2-Year Contract

The Baltimore Orioles have reportedly reached an agreement with relief pitcher Grant Balfour on a two-year deal.

Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports reported the news:

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman confirmed the deal and added that Balfour will have to pass a physical to complete the move. He also clarified the terms of the contract, noting that Balfour will get $15 million including deferred money:

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN adds the two sides hope to finalize the contract today:

Balfour spent the last two seasons as the closer for the Oakland Athletics. He racked up 62 saves over that span with an ERA below 2.60, making him one of the game’s most efficient ninth-inning pitchers.

Instead of re-signing him, Oakland made a deal with the Orioles to acquire Jim Johnson in exchange for a package including infielder Jemile Weeks.

So Johnson heads west to fill the Athletics’ closer void, and now Balfour signs with the Orioles to eliminate the hole left by Johnson’s exit.

After the deal with Oakland, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter was asked about how the team would replace Johnson and Nate McLouth, especially in terms of team chemistry. Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun provided his response:

You asked a great question. You can’t put that sabermetrics on Johnson, Nate. … We hope to replace them with guys that bring similar contributions other than playing the game. … There are some other guys that might step up, having a year under their belt they hadn’t before. Let’s face it, chemistry comes from winning games, to start off with. You can start with good chemistry out in the spring. But if you go 0-30 in April, I bet your chemistry isn’t real good. It runs hand in hand.

Showalter clearly understands replacing Johnson, who posted back-to-back 50-save seasons with the Orioles, won’t be easy on the field or in the clubhouse. That said, adding a veteran like Balfour should help limit any potential issues.

David Cameron of Fangraphs believes it’s a signing with plenty of value for Baltimore:

When you factor in the Orioles also added a useful utility player like Weeks in what amounts to simply switching closers, Baltimore definitely emerges from this segment of the offseason wheeling and dealing on the positive end.

Balfour should make a seamless transition to the Orioles and ensure the ninth inning remains something Showalter doesn’t have to worry about.  


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MLB Winter Meetings 2013: Analyzing All the Action, Hot Rumors of Day 2

Day two of the winter meeting got off to a bang as the rumored three-team deal between the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels came together rather quickly and was a reality by early afternoon.

With one more day before the focus turns to the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, expect at least a few more big free agent signings and/or trades to happen over the next 24-30 hours or so.

Here’s all the latest from the rumor mill.  

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Six Big Deals That Could Still Go Down at the 2013 Winter Meetings

The action was modest through the first two days of the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with a couple of secondary-type signings taking place, as well as the interesting three-way trade between the Angels, Diamondbacks and White Sox.

There figure to be at least a few more transactions before the Meetings disband, however, as the Orioles were reportedly on the verge of making a notable free-agent signing on Tuesday night, while the Marlins were reportedly motivated to make a trade and were getting plenty of interest from potential suitors.

Here are six moves that I could see going down before the all the sun bathing wraps up and everyone heads back to the cold-weather regions being pounded by snow and rain. Not that I’m jealous or anything.

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Oakland Athletics: Pros and Cons of Re-Signing Grant Balfour

Grant Balfour has been a force at the back of the Oakland Athletics‘ bullpen for the last three years, but could be on his way out now that his contract has expired.

After the A’s second straight trip to the American League Division Series in 2013, MLB.com writer Jane Lee said the team wants to maintain its solid core.

Retaining Balfour would help the A’s return to the playoffs, but he comes with a lot of baggage. A’s general manager Billy Beane needs to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of bringing backs his closer.




He Locks Down the Ninth Inning

Balfour served as a set-up man for the Tampa Bay Rays and worked the eighth inning in front of Andrew Bailey in his first year with the A’s.

Once Bailey was traded in the Josh Reddick steal of a deal, Balfour took over as the team’s closer and proceeded to slam the door for the next two years, averaging a 2.56 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

The veteran reeled off 44 consecutive saves, breaking Dennis Eckersley’s club record, and earned his first All-Star nod in 2013.


He’s a Great Fit in Oakland

On a team full of young stars like Josh Donaldson and Sonny Gray, Balfour and fellow free agent Bartolo Colon are two of the only vets.

Pitching talents aside, Colon’s mild-mannered demeanor is far more replaceable than Balfour’s fiery rage. If Balfour leaves, the silence and stillness from the right field bleachers will be deafening.

Balfour has flashed his competitive spirit twice in the playoffs, getting into it with Orlando Cabrera in 2008 and Victor Martinez last year before retiring both hitters. It never hurts to have an enforcer at the end of a close game.




He’s Old

Balfour may be relatively new to closing, but he has spent plenty of time in the majors. He broke in with the Minnesota Twins back in 2001, and will turn 36 this winter.

That’s awfully old for a pitcher, especially one with a history of forearm, shoulder, knee and elbow injuries. While Balfour has moved on from his Tommy John surgery from 2005 and torn rotator cuff and labrum from 2006, the A’s have reason to be concerned as he ages.


He Broke Down Late in the Season

Balfour put together a legitimate case as the American League’s best closer in the first half of the season. Come August and September, things were a little different.

He couldn’t throw strikes, and when he did, they were hard-hit mistake pitches. Balfour had a 1.76 ERA on August 26, but closed out the year by giving up eight earned runs in 11.2 innings.

Every late-season save situation seemed to end with Balfour saying he was gassed, running on fumes or some other declaration of being burnt out. Sure, he’ll have the offseason to recover, but the A’s will have to watch his workload if he returns.


He’s Replaceable for a Lesser Price

Billy Beane pioneered the art of trading the closer, pulling in lucrative packages for Billy Taylor, Andrew Bailey and Billy Koch. While Balfour’s free agency makes him untradeable, Beane‘s track record shows how little faith he has in long-term closers.

Balfour is due for a big payday after raking in $4.5 million last year. As always, the A’s will need to be financially conservative and might not meet Balfour’s salary demands.

So who would replace Balfour? Set-up man Ryan Cook is the obvious answer, though Beane could also look for outside help like the Rays’ Jesse Crain.

Balfour has been very good for the A’s over the past three years, but it’s time to cut ties. Re-signing him would be a sizable investment, one Oakland cannot afford to make.

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