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Grant Balfour Rumors
The Blue Jays announced today that they’ve selected the contract of veteran left-hander Jeff Francis and optioned fellow lefty Colt Hynes to Triple-A Buffalo. The 34-year-old Francis, a native of Vancouver, will add another Canadian player to Toronto’s roster, joining Russell Martin, Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey. Francis will hope for better results than he’s seen over the past three seasons, during which he’s posted a combined 5.84 ERA in 203 1/3 innings with the Rockies, Reds, A’s and Yankees. Toronto already had an open 40-man roster spot after designating Todd Redmond for assignment last week.
Here’s more from the AL East…
- Recently designated right-hander Grant Balfour spoke with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times about how he wished his second run with the Rays had yielded better results. Balfour admitted to shying away from his fastball after the realization that the pitch lacked its typical life. The Australian righty wouldn’t state for certain whether or not he’d pursue another opportunity immediately: “Maybe a little bit of rest will be good for me. … I’m not thinking too far ahead. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
- After speaking to multiple scouts about the futures of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes that Betts has leap-frogged Bogaerts in the eyes of the baseball industry. “I don’t think you could find anyone in baseball who would pick Bogaerts over Betts right now,” one scout told Silverman. Another said Betts “clearly” has the better bat of the two, while a third scout said that in 20 years, Betts “makes quicker adjustments to his game than anybody I’ve seen.” All of the scouts to whom Silverman spoke are quick to clarify that Bogaerts still has star potential, but the glowing reviews add to the meteoric rise of Betts over the past 12 months.
- Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop is likely to miss longer than the minimum amount of time on the 15-day disabled list, writes Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The 23-year-old Schoop suffered a Grade 1 partial PCL tear and an MCL sprain, and while surgery is unlikely, an exact timetable is unknown. Encina looks at Anthony Rendon as a possible comparable, noting that Rendon has just resumed baseball activities six weeks after spraining his left MCL.
The Rays have designated reliever Grant Balfour, the team announced. The decision comes on the heels of an outing in which he allowed three runs on three walks and a home run over two-thirds of an inning. The club owes him $7MM this season. Tampa has selected the contract of Brandon Gomes in his place.
Balfour, 37, has a career 3.44 ERA with 9.53 K/9, 4.16 BB/9, and 84 saves. This season, his velocity has declined to a career low 89 mph. In his heyday, he regularly pumped 93-94 mph heat. After today, he’s walked four batters in four and one-third innings without a strikeout. It’s possible that he was underprepared for the season. Balfour’s father passed early during spring training, so it’s certainly understandable if he had trouble focusing on baseball.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tells the emotional story of Rays reliever Grant Balfour and his father David, who is battling pancreatic cancer. Baseball Australia’s Hall of Fame will induct the younger Balfour even before his playing career is over so that his father — a notable figure in the Australian game — can be there to participate. The piece is well worth your time.
Here are the latest reports on the international scene:
- The Diamondbacks are among the teams expected to watch touted young Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada later this week, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports. Arizona has already gone well over its international bonus pool and has been one of the most active teams on the international market. The Cubs, too, will take a look at him (as have many other, previously-reported teams), though they would be unable to offer him more than a $250K bonus unless he waits until after July 2 to sign.
- Hector Olivera drew hundreds of scouts to his final public showcase, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reports on Twitter, and seemingly did not disappoint. Per Badler, the Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, and Padres were well-represented in attendance. You’ll want to read through Badler’s Twitter feed (some earlier portion of which was compiled here by Baseball America) for more information on Olivera’s impressive display as well as some other notes from the international showcase.
- Right-hander Yadier Alvarez, just 18, is the latest Cuban citizen drawing buzz. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted recently that he is pushing a high-90s fastball, and today Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs reports (Twitter links) that his buzz “checks out.” Not only does the young righty work in the mid-90s and touch even higher, he has a “more than usable” change to go with it. That will likely result in a big payday, per McDaniel, who also notes in a tweet that it may take a month or two for him to be cleared to sign.
- Former KBO superstar and current Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang might just be capable of putting up huge numbers in the big leagues, according to the analysis of Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs. Farnsworth breaks down Kang’s “upper-echelon swing” and compares it to some notable MLB power bats, concluding that the Korean ballplayer could break out with a .280+ batting average and 25 or more home runs in his first MLB season.
In his Sunday column, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes that “the key to [the Rays‘] offseason flexibility might be trades” before noting that Tampa would be eager to deal either Grant Balfour or Jose Molina if they opportunity presented itself. He also speculates that names such as Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez and Jeremy Hellickson are names to watch, and he wonders whether or not Desmond Jennings and even Wil Myers will be discussed in trades this winter as well.
Here’s more from Topkin’s piece and the rest of the AL East…
- While trading Yunel Escobar to the A’s or letting him go on waivers might’ve been popular with Rays fans (and even some in the clubhouse, Topkin notes), the team held onto him for multiple reasons. Firstly, the Rays are confident that Escobar will rebound from a tough 2014 season next year. They also don’t trust Ben Zobrist at shortstop next year in his age-34 season and aren’t sold on Nick Franklin‘s defense at short. Nor are they certain whether or not Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham will be ready in 2015. Beyond that, the Rays don’t feel they can replace Escobar for as cheap little as he stands to earn in 2015 ($5MM).
- Kelly Johnson, who went to the Orioles as the key to a four-player deal Saturday night, is now headed to his fifth straight AL East team. He’s happy to be headed to a likely playoff team in Baltimore, he tells the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. “It’s crazy,” says Johnson. “Obviously I’ll be familiar with the surroundings. … I’m obviously excited to be in a situation where you’re on a first-place team.”
- In a second piece, Britton also looked at the struggles of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, and he spoke with Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen about whether or not the hardships experienced by that duo has led the Sox to reevaluate their evaluation process for young players. Hazen speaks at length about the league-wide decline of offense, the increase in defensive shifts and the progress made in scouting reports, noting that it’s tougher now for young players to break through.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Via Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, Blue 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."
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.
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.