Grant Balfour Rumors

AL East Links: Balfour, Price, Drew, BoSox

Grant Balfour is no longer the Rays‘ closer, as manager Joe Maddon told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) that his team is moving to a closer committee.  The demotion comes as no surprise following Balfour’s rough performance on Sunday, when he allowed the Mariners to score five runs in the ninth inning.  Balfour has struggled badly this season, posting a 6.46 ERA and recording almost as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21) over 23 2/3 innings of work.  The 36-year-old signed a two-year, $12MM free agent contract with Tampa in the offseason.  If you have Balfour on a fantasy team, stay tuned to @CloserNews (MLBTR’s save-centric sister Twitter account) to keep tabs on the Rays’ bullpen and other late-game situations throughout baseball.

Here’s some more from the AL East…

  • The Rays could be sellers at the trade deadline, and Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris looks at some of the club’s veteran pieces with a particular focus on David Price.  While Tampa Bay will rightly seek a big prospect haul for Price, Sarris notes the difficulty in finding a contender (especially outside the AL East) who has the necessary minor league depth to swing a trade.  Sarris also notes that a fire sale seems unlikely, as the Rays will still look to contend in 2015.
  • Peter Gammons discussed several Red Sox topics in an interview on the Dennis & Callahan radio show this morning (WEEI.com’s Conor Ryan has a partial transcript).  While Gammons doesn’t think the Red Sox regret signing the struggling Stephen Drew, “there are so many political angles at play here that you’ve just got to wonder, ‘€˜What are they going to be a year from now?”  Gammons believes the Boston media’s criticisms of Xander Bogaerts‘ ability to play short pressured the club to re-sign Drew, whereas Gammons felt the Red Sox should’ve acquired an outfielder instead.
  • Gammons doesn’t see the Red Sox becoming major sellers if they fall out of the race because they want pitchers like Jon Lester and John Lackey back in 2015 and also “just because of the nature of the Boston fans and because of the nature of the market and because of NESN.”  A.J. Pierzynski could potentially become a trade chip if the Sox fell far enough out of a playoff spot, which would open the door for Christian Vasquez to get called up and gain some big league experience.
  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington won’t make moves for the sake of making moves, John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes, as the current roster will have to prove its worth as a contender over the next six weeks to convince the front office to pursue upgrades.
  • Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette appeared on Middays With MFB today (again, tip of the cap to WEEI.com’s Conor Ryan) and said that trade talk around the league is slow since so many teams are still technically in contention.  “There aren’t many sellers, from what I can tell. Usually after the draft, which was just completed, teams will start calling around, but I only know that there’€™s just a couple of sellers right now….It’€™s going to be challenging to add to the team,” Duquette said.
  • The Yankees should look to shake up their struggling lineup by getting rid of Brian Roberts and Alfonso Soriano, Mike Axisa of the River Ave Blues blog opines.  Since Derek Jeter won’t be moved down in the lineup due to his stature, Axisa suggests that Jeter actually become the leadoff hitter in order to have the Yankees’ best four hitters (Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Yangervis Solarte) all hit in a row.

Nationals Notes: Desmond, Balfour, Gonzalez

Ian Desmond reportedly turned down a seven-year contract offer from the Nationals that was worth at least $85.5MM and possibly topped the $90MM threshold, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post reported during a reader chat.  Rumors about the Nats extending Desmond have swirled for over a year, and while the two sides agreed to a two-year, $17.5MM extension in January that covered both of his remaining arbitration years, Desmond is still eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.  While Desmond didn't specifically comment on Boswell's report, the shortstop told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that "the Nationals and I had been in conversation prior to the two-year deal, but things didn't work out. I don't know how this got out. It's not something that came from my side. We don't operate like that." 

Here's some more from Desmond and some other items from Washington…

  • Though a long-term deal hasn't been reached, Desmond "feel[s] real strongly about my future with the Nationals. I would like to play here for the rest of my career."
  • Desmond admitted he was "a little bit hesitant" to sign his two-year extension, "but in turn, I have a wife and kids. Guaranteed money is guaranteed money. I think it was a good, fair deal for both sides. I took a deal that benefited my family and it didn't affect future infielders in the arbitration process. To have the security was something I couldn't pass up."
  • Also from Boswell's chat, he notes that the Nationals offered Grant Balfour a two-year, $12MM deal but the reliever took a similar deal from the Rays instead because Washington's offer contained mostly deferred money.  Boswell admits this could be "one of those many after-the-fact retellings of history," but believes the rumor to be true.  The Nats were known to be interested in Balfour and were trying to free up 2014 payroll space to sign him and make further moves, to the point that Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann's two-year extensions were both backloaded to 2015.
  • Gio Gonzalez's contract has become a major bargain for the Nationals, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post writes.  Gonzalez has three years and a guaranteed $31.5MM remaining on his original five-year pact, and the Nationals have $12MM club options on the southpaw for both 2017 and 2018.

Rays Sign Grant Balfour

JAN. 27: Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets some more specifics on the breakdown of Balfour's contract. Balfour's $5MM in 2014 will come in the form of a $1MM signing bonus and a $4MM salary. He will receive an additional $500K if traded, and $2MM is deferred in each year of his contract.

JAN. 23, 6:00pm: Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Balfour will earn $5MM in 2014 and $7MM in 2015 (Twitter link).

3:19pm: The Rays have officially signed reliever Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12MM deal. Balfour returns to the organization with which he had both his best (2008, 1.54 ERA) and worst (2009, 4.81 ERA) seasons as a big leaguer.

Balfour

Of course, the ACES client had an earlier agreement in place with the Orioles for two years and $15MM, which was blown up when Baltimore found issues with the reliever's physical. The Aussie will nevertheless throw in the AL East after agreeing to terms with Tampa. (It is worth noting that the Rays' team doctor was one of those who said there were no issues with Balfour's right shoulder, though the Orioles apparently had different reasons for concern with the medicals.)

As MLBTR's Steve Adams wrote in profiling Balfour earlier in the offseason, the righty struck out batters at an impressive rate of 10.8 K/9 in 2013. Though the 36-year-old's fastball velocity has dipped since he worked around the 95 mph mark in his excellent 2008 season with Tampa, he still brings his heater at above 93 mph on average.

Ultimately, since a tough 2009, Balfour has been outstanding at keeping opposing runners from crossing the plate. Over the 2010-13 seasons, Balfour has maintained a 2.47 ERA in 254 2/3 innings, with an average of 9.2 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. He has been a model of consistency over that time frame as well, as his ERA has not strayed above the 2.59 mark.

Balfour faced a tough market situation even before his ill-fated pact with Baltimore. With several other big-name, late-inning relievers on the market, it was clear early on that some good arms would be left unable to max out their earnings. As the list of free agent closers shows (via MLBTR's Free Agent Tracker), Balfour slots in between the two-year deals of Joaquin Benoit ($15.5MM from the Padres) and Edward Mujica ($9.5MM from the Red Sox). Interestingly, he falls well shy of the $19MM guarantee handed by the Dodgers to Brian Wilson, who only threw 19 2/3 innings last year (including the post-season) after missing almost all of 2012-13 due to Tommy John surgery.

Andrew Rickli of SportsReel Boston first reported the deal (via Twitter). Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first tweeted the final contract terms, while Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first tweeted that the deal was expected to land in the two-year, $12MM range. 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



AL East Links: Jays, Drew, Sizemore, Sox, Balfour

Via Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.caBlue Jays manager John Gibbons told Jim Bowden and Casey Stern of MLB Network Radio that his team has about a 50/50 shot of adding a significant free agent pitcher. Nicholson-Smith writes that the Jays know the asking prices of pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana but aren't prepared to overpay a free agent. Here's more out of the AL East…

  • The Yankees are weighing a run at Stephen Drew now that they've blown past the luxury tax threshold, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. A person familiar with the team's thinking told Heyman that a pursuit of Drew would still depend on the price, however. ESPN's Buster Olney reported the other day that the Yankees weren't likely to make any major additions following the Tanaka signing.
  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington told Jason Mastrodonato of MassLive.com that despite signing Grady Sizemore to a Major League deal, there are no guarantees that the former Indians star will make the Opening Day roster. Cherington didn't rule out a minor league assignment for Sizemore.
  • Also from Mastrodonato (on Twitter), Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters at tonight's BBWAA dinner, "We're going to have Jackie Bradley in center field." Mastrodonato adds that Cherington said, "We believe in Jackie Bradley."
  • WEEI.com's Alex Speier examines the Red Sox' wealth of pitching depth. Speier writes that while it would seem logical for the Sox to deal from their perceived surplus, the majority of top pitching prospects simply don't pan out. Speier points to a study from Camden Depot's Matt Perez that looks at the history of Baseball America's top prospects, revealing that even in the most successful stretch for those prospects, just over one of four became solid Major Leaguers.
  • Asked about his potential grievance with the Orioles at today's press conference, new Rays closer Grant Balfour told reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times"I'm not going to comment on it. We'll see what happens. I'm here to stay. I have a contract with the Rays, and anything else that's going to happen on that part will be taken care of, and we'll move forward. That's not going to affect anything I've got going here. I'm moving on. I'm glad to be here, really happy to be here."

Balfour Expected To Sign Within The Next Week

Free agent right-hander Grant Balfour is expected to make a decision as to where he will sign "within a week, if not in the coming days," a person close to his situation tells Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Nationals are in the mix for Balfour, and Kilgore writes that it should be known soon how serious that level of interest is. GM Mike Rizzo appeared on the MLB Network this morning and spoke in general terms regarding Balfour (via Kilgore):

"Sometimes, you get some values at this time of year. We’re looking for any way to strengthen a weakness we have. We feel our bullpen is extremely strong. It’s a big part of our ball club. But if we could strengthen a strength, that never hurts, either. You can never have too many good players. Especially in January, you can never have too many good arms, too many starters, too many relievers."

In his weekend report, Rosenthal noted that the purpose of backloading the two-year deals inked by Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond was to create financial flexibility for the 2014 season. The club saved in the vicinity of $3.5MM by backloading those deals, and that money, paired with a trade of Drew Storen — something both Rosenthal and Kilgore note as a possibility — would seem to free up enough payroll to add Balfour. Storen is set to earn $3.5MM next season.

The 36-year-old Balfour agreed to a two-year, $15MM with the Orioles back in December, but that contract fell through due to medical concerns from Baltimore. While the initial reaction to the deal was anger from Balfour and his agents because multiple doctors said his shoulder was perfectly healthy, recent reports have indicated that Baltimore backed off due to concerns in Balfour's wrist and knee.


Nationals In Mix For Grant Balfour

The Nationals have interest in free agent reliever Grant Balfour, major league sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  The Nats already have three relievers with closing experience in Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, but the addition of Balfour could make sense for a variety of reasons, Rosenthal writes.

According to sources, GM Mike Rizzo & Co. would like to trade Storen, who will earn $3.45MM in 2014.  Meanwhile, Washington almost certainly doesn't want Soriano to pitch enough games to trigger his $14MM option for 2015 and they'd probably like to keep Clippard as a setup man.

The Nationals saved about $3.5MM by signing shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to back-loaded, two-year extensions and major league sources say their aim was to create financial flexibility.  They want to add another bat off the bench, but they also would like to add Balfour.  They could also parlay those savings into settling their arb cases with Clippard and Doug Fister, but, of course, they'd rather not have to.

Balfour, of course, had agreed to a two-year, $15MM contract with the Beltway's other team before the O's called it off due to concerns about his knee and wrist.  Meanwhile, Balfour has been adamant that he is completely healthy.

While the Nationals like Balfour, they don't have interest in Fernando Rodney, the other top closer on the market, sources say.  


O’s Backed Off Balfour Deal Due To Knee, Wrist Concerns

Though two doctors voiced their confidence that Grant Balfour's shoulder was healthy after the Orioles backed out of their two-year agreement with the Australian closer, ESPN's Buster Olney reports that the O's actually called off the deal due to concerns over Balfour's knee and wrist (Twitter link).

The Orioles and Balfour had agreed to a two-year, $15MM contract in what looked to be a solid move for Baltimore — shedding Jim Johnson's salary and saving $3-4MM to turn the ninth inning over to Balfour. However, Baltimore backed off due to medical concerns, infuriating Balfour and his representatives at ACES. At the time, Balfour was said to be considering filing a grievance against the Orioles.

Since his deal with the Orioles fell through, Balfour has been connected to the Yankees, Rays and Giants, among other teams. He added in a radio appearance that he had at least one offer on the table. At this point, a healthy Balfour would be in the running for best reliever on the market, alongside Fernando Rodney. However, if there are medical concerns surrounding his knee and wrist that have flown under the radar to this point, he may have a difficult time matching that two-year, $15MM offer.


Giants Notes: Balfour, Surkamp, Pill

The Giants have had talks with Grant Balfour, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. Schulman rates the Giants' chances of actually signing Balfour as "meh," however. As Schulman reported earlier today, the Giants are looking for a reliever but likely not a closer, so they would appear unlikely to pay steeply for Balfour's services. Since Balfour's deal with the Orioles fell through, he has been connected to the Yankees and Rays. Here's more out of San Francisco.

  • The Giants lost lefty Eric Surkamp (who was claimed by the White Sox) in part because Brett Pill remains on their 40-man roster, Schulman explains. The Giants are selling Pill's rights to the KIA Tigers in Korea, but until that deal is done, Pill has to stay on the 40-man, or the Giants can't collect their $500K transfer fee. That made Surkamp the odd man out when the Giants needed a roster spot for Mike Morse. In any case, Schulman notes that the Giants might have designated Surkamp anyway once they signed their extra reliever.
  • From the outside, the Giants' move to designate Surkamp for assignment didn't make sense, Grant Brisbee of SB Nation writes. Brisbee suggests that the Giants "probably let the next Carlos Villanueva go," reffering to the Giants' 2004 decision to send Villanueva to the Brewers in a minor trade for Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella.

Orioles Notes: Hendriks, Balfour, K-Rod

The Orioles' claim of Liam Hendriks today was, like many waiver claims, an acquisition made with depth in mind — Orioles executive Dan Duquette sees Hendriks as a possible spot starter, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets. But Duquette also likes Hendriks' control. Hendriks struggled in the Majors in 2013, but he walked only 1.4 batters per nine innings in 98 1/3 frames for Triple-A Rochester, and since he was only 24, Duquette is optimistic that he might be able to post strong control numbers in the big leagues. Here are more notes on the Orioles.

  • Hendriks' acquisition won't stop the Orioles from pursuing starting pitching. The O's continue to look for starters in both free agency and the trade market, Encina tweets. Baltimore has been connected to starters including Ubaldo Jimenez, Johan Santana and A.J. Burnett.
  • Don't expect a big move before Christmas, however — Duquette indicates that most teams will begin their holiday breaks after today (via MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko on Twitter).
  • The Grant Balfour "fiasco" could be an issue for the Orioles as they pursue free agents, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal writes. The O's backed out of their agreement with Balfour over concern regarding his medicals, a concern some other teams did not share. That wasn't the first time the Orioles had voided a deal for medical reasons, as Rosenthal describes. "This will factor into every competent agent's thought process going forward," an agent tells Rosenthal.
  • The Orioles do not seem to be interested in re-signing Francisco Rodriguez, Kubatko writes. Instead, they'll likely go with Tommy Hunter or free agent Fernando Rodney for their closer role.

Yankees Interested In Grant Balfour

The Yankees have shown interest in closer Grant Balfour in the wake of his deal with the Orioles coming apart, a source tells Kevin Kernan of the New York Post.  Balfour, of course, had a two-year, $15MM deal ironed out with Baltimore before the club backed out of the deal over concern about his shoulder. 

The Yankees want to give David Robertson the shot to earn the closer’s role but adding Balfour would give them an experienced ninth-inning option.  Robertson believes that he is prepared to take over Mariano Rivera's position but is also willing to be the eight-inning option again if that's what the Yankees want him to do.

While the O's apparently saw something that they didn't like, Balfour insists that he is healthy and says that he has "at least" one offer on the table with three other clubs interested.  Balfour, who turns 36 next Monday, posted a 2.59 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 on his way to a first career All-Star selection in 2013.