Grant Balfour Rumors

Grant Balfour Not Planning To Retire

SATURDAY: Balfour tells Topkin (Twitter link) that he is not considering retirement at this time. The veteran righty says he still wants to try to return to the big leagues, and “is considering a few options.”

THURSDAY: Right-hander Grant Balfour is leaning toward retiring after opting out of his minor league contract with the Rays, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The 37-year-old Balfour struggled with the 2014 Rays after having almost latched on with the Orioles on a two-year deal earlier that offseason. Medical concerns caused that deal to fall through, and Balfour eventually returned to the Rays on a different two-year deal later in the winter. However, his velocity was noticeably lower than in recent years, and his BB/9 rate spiked north of 5.0, resulting in a 4.91 ERA over 62 1/3 innings of work. He eventually lost the closer’s role to Jake McGee and appeared poised to pitch in a setup capacity in 2015 as he hoped to rebound.

Instead, Balfour struggled through 4 1/3 innings after missing much of Spring Training to return to his native Australia to be with his ailing father. Upon returning, he surrendered three runs in 4 1/3 innings and was ultimately designated for assignment and released before signing a new minor league deal with Tampa.

Topkin notes that Balfour had relatively encouraging bottom-line results with Triple-A Durham, allowing just three runs in 9 2/3 innings. However, he also allowed nine hits and four walks with velocity that again sat in the 90-91 mph range — a significant departure from the 93.4 mph he averaged as recently as 2013. Rays manager Kevin Cash said that Balfour was “Similar to what he was [in the Majors],” when asked by Topkin. “No regression, but I don’t think he totally felt like he had got back what he was looking for,” Cash continued.

If Balfour’s career is coming to a close, he’ll finish with a 30-23 record, 84 saves and a 3.49 ERA in 539 2/3 innings. The hard-throwing righty averaged 9.5 strikeouts and 4.2 walks per nine innings over a 12-year big league career split between the Twins, Rays, Athletics and Brewers.


Grant Balfour Opts Out Of Deal With Rays

Former Rays closer Grant Balfour has opted out of his minor league contract with the team and received his release, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (Twitter links). It’s not yet clear whether Balfour will look to catch on with another club.

The veteran righty had re-signed with Tampa Bay after being released from his major league deal earlier in the season. He was already owed the remainder of a $7MM salary on the year, which will not change with the move. At most, the Rays could receive an offset of a prorated portion of the league minimum salary if Balfour spends time at the major league level with another team.

Balfour had a long run of success before returning to to the Rays before the 2014 season, but things have never clicked in his second stint with the club. Over 66 2/3 total MLB innings across the last two years, he has allowed an even five earned runs per nine with 7.7 K/9 against 6.1 BB/9. Plummeting average fastball readings surely played a significant role, as Balfour dropped below 90 mph for the first time in his career this season.

Since re-joining the organization, Balfour sported a quality 2.79 ERA over 9 2/3 innings at Triple-A Durham. Even better, he’s done so by generating 11 strikeouts against just four walks. While those numbers obviously show much more promise than his work at the big league level, Topkin says it was clear that he was not likely to receive another shot at the team’s MLB  pen.


Rays Re-Sign Grant Balfour To Minors Deal

5:47pm: Balfour confirms that he has indeed inked a new deal with the Rays, Topkin tweets.

5:41pm: The Rays may be in the process of re-signing struggling righty Grant Balfour to a minor league deal, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports on Twitter. Tampa Bay released Balfour on Tuesday and remains on the hook for his $7MM salary this year.

Balfour, 37, inked a two-year, $12MM deal to join the Rays before the 2014 season, and to say he has been a disappointment would be an understatement. Over 66 2/3 total innings in his second stint with the club, he has posted a 5.00 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against a troubling 6.1 BB/9.

Things got even worse this year, as Balfour failed to notch a strikeout while permitting four free passes in his first 4 1/3 innings of the season. His fastball was down about two full ticks as against last year, and he had already lost velocity from his prior years’ work.

Over a dozen years in the league, Balfour has worked to a 3.49 ERA while averaging 9.5 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9. Tampa’s plan to bring him back to (or, at least, near) that level of productivity would be to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks, says Topkin, in an effort to get him back on track.



Rays Release Grant Balfour

Right-hander Grant Balfour, who was designated for assignment by the Rays last week, has cleared release waivers and is a free agent, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link). Wolfson adds that he checked to see if a reunion with the Twins was a possibility, but he’s been told that Balfour will be signing elsewhere.

The 37-year-old Balfour looked to be on his way to the Orioles in the 2013-14 offseason, but his two-year deal fell through after the O’s weren’t comfortable with the results of his physical. Balfour ultimately ended up returning to Tampa Bay — the team with which he revived his career in 2008.

Balfour’s second stint in St. Petersburg, however, did not go as smoothly as his first. In 66 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, Balfour worked to a 5.00 ERA with 57 strikeouts against 45 walks. His ~93mph average fastball velocity dipped to 91.6 mph in 2014, and in this season’s small sample, he averaged just 89.4 mph. However, part of that could be due to the fact that Balfour missed much of Spring Training as he traveled back to his native Australia to be with his dying father for his final days.

From 2008-13, Balfour was a highly effective relief weapon, working to a 2.74 ERA with 9.7 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 380 1/3 innings. Balfour averaged 64 appearances and 63 innings per season in that stretch, and he served as Oakland’s closer for the final two years of that stretch. With the A’s, the fiery Balfour saved 64 games and earned the first All-Star nod of his 12-year Major League career.

The Rays owe Balfour $7MM in 2015 (though $2MM of that figure is deferred). Should he latch on with another team, as Wolfson indicated, that club would be on the hook for only the pro-rated portion of the league minimum for any time Balfour spends on the big league roster.


AL East Notes: Francis, Balfour, Betts, Schoop

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.

Rays Designate Grant Balfour For Assignment

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.

The Aussie reliever is joined in DFA limbo by Xavier Cedeno, Todd Redmond, and Ryan Dennick.


International Notes: Balfour, Moncada, Olivera, Alvarez, Kang

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.

AL East Notes: Rays, Escobar, Johnson, Red Sox

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.

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.