Earlier this week, MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith noted that only four free agents who'd cost a draft pick to sign remain on the market. Because Adrian Beltre, Rafael Soriano, Carl Pavano, and Grant Balfour were Type A players who turned down offers of arbitration, teams signing them will have to surrender a high pick in the 2011 draft.
While parting with a draft pick wouldn't be a huge price to pay for signing Beltre, Soriano, or Pavano, the same can't necessarily be said about Balfour. The right-hander ranks 12th among our top 15 remaining free agents, whereas Beltre, Soriano, and Pavano grab the top three spots, respectively. Even in an offseason that has featured many lucrative deals for bullpen arms, giving up a first- or second-round pick for a reliever who's just one year removed from a 4.81 ERA is risky.
Which teams will be willing to take that risk and pursue Balfour anyway? Let's try to find some potential fits….
- Orioles: They are said to have a "definite interest" in the righty, and their first-round pick in 2011 is protected, meaning they'd send a second-rounder to the Rays if they signed Balfour. They've been linked to Kevin Gregg in recent weeks as well, and seem unlikely to add both pitchers, so an agreement with Gregg could potentially take them out of the running.
- Rays: It was no sure thing that Balfour would turn down their arbitration offer – they appeared willing to bring him back. They're still in the market for late-inning relief help, and Balfour would be a fit if the price was right.
- Nationals: Draft pick compensation shouldn't be a concern for Washington; they added extra picks when Adam Dunn signed with the White Sox, and have already parted with their second-rounder due to the Jayson Werth signing. As such, they'd be giving up a third-rounder if they added Balfour, and MLBTR's Tim Dierkes identified the bullpen as one area the team could still address this winter.
- Athletics, Pirates: Both clubs have a little money to spend, as shown by Oakland's pursuit of Beltre and bid on Hisashi Iwakuma, as well as Pittsburgh's handful of free agent signings. They also both have protected first-round picks. Billy Beane hinted after the Josh Willingham trade that the A's might look to add a reliever, while the Pirates had some interest in Octavio Dotel before the veteran agreed to sign with Toronto.
- Yankees, Twins: Both teams would have to surrender their first-rounder to sign Balfour, which makes them unlikely suitors. Still, the Twins have already lost Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier to free agency, so they could use some relief help. The Yankees don't necessarily have a pressing need, but they've been linked to at least one reliever recently, in Brian Fuentes, and it's never safe to write them off on any free agent.
Last week, over 56% of about 5800 MLBTR readers voted that Balfour would land a multiyear deal somewhere. I agreed when I examined Balfour's free agent stock on the heels of Joaquin Benoit's $16.5MM deal, expressing optimism about the 33-year-old's chances of landing a multiyear contract worth at least $10MM or so. Although that's still a possibility, many of the teams we expected to be in on Balfour have addressed their bullpen in other ways. And as Tim pointed out when discussing Fuentes, a shift toward a buyer's market may occur as the spring approaches.