Grant Balfour Rumors
We haven't seen a ton of action yet from Orlando today, but plenty of smaller-scale rumors have been trickling in throughout the day, including plenty related to the bullpen market. Let's round up a few of the latest updates on some available relief pitchers....
- The Indians, who are in the market for a closer, have spoken to Grant Balfour, sources tell Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter link).
- Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports (via Twitter) that Chris Perez is in attendance in Orlando to meet with teams in person, which Olney sees as a good move, considering how Perez's 2013 season played out.
- The Tigers sound lukewarm on the bullpen market at this point, according to Jason Beck of MLB.com (via Twitter), who says that stance could change once more closer openings are filled and free agents shift their focus to setup jobs.
- The Yankees, Nationals, and Padres have all been involved in the lefty relief market to varying degrees, according to Morosi (via Twitter).
- New York has stayed in touch with Boone Logan, tweets Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger. However, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link) hears that Logan is hoping to earn a role as a setup man, rather than simply as a LOOGY.
- The Braves have spoken with the agent of Eric O'Flaherty, but that appears to be on the backburner for now, particularly since he's drawing interest from other teams, tweets David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Mariners' search for a closer has them in the market for right-handers Brian Wilson and Grant Balfour, among others, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). The Mariners are known to be in the market for a ninth-inning arm this winter, and Wilson and Balfour represent two of the highest-profile names at the position.
Wilson, 32 in March, returned in late August and fired 19 2/3 innings of one-run ball between the regular season and the playoffs for the Dodgers. Wilson whiffed 21 hitters and walked only four, flashing an average fastball velocity of 93.2 mph. His strong showing likely helped to convince teams that his second Tommy John surgery is safely in the rear-view mirror. He's caught the interest of the Tigers, Rockies and a slew of other teams.
Balfour, 36 next month, saved 62 games for the 2012-13 A's en route to a 2.56 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. The Yankees, Tigers, Rockies, Rays and Angels have all already expressed interest in the Australian hurler, who is expected to sign with a new team due to the fact that he'll be too pricey for the A's.
It's a crowded market for relievers, but each can make a case for a multiyear deal. In general, it'd seem beneficial to sign early in the offseason, as this year's free agent class is rife with closer types, led by Joe Nathan.
Free agent reliever Mark Hendrickson would like to return to the Orioles organization in 2014, but he doesn't know where he'll wind up this winter. "Obviously, I'd love to get his feedback from an organizational standpoint," Hendrickson told Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. "I'm very happy with the opportunity they gave me last year. I don't know what's going to happen moving forward. I've got to be open to everything. I obviously have a connection with the Orioles. I love the organization, love where it's been going. But to determine what will happen, it's hard to say sitting here in November - what their thoughts are, how everything unfolds, what's going on." Here's more out of the AL East..
- Attorneys for Major League Baseball accused Alex Rodriguez of “a brazen attempt to circumvent the ongoing arbitration process” in a motion filed Friday to dismiss the Yankees third baseman's lawsuit against MLB and commissioner Bud Selig, write Ken Davidoff and Rich Calder of the New York Post.
- The Yankees announced yesterday that they are bringing back their entire coaching staff. That means that key figures such as pitching coach Larry Rothschild, bench coach Tony Pena, and hitting coach Kevin Long will return for another year in pinstripes.
- The Yanks will face tough competition for players on their free agent wish list this year, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports. "[T]his isn’t going to be like 2008 when [GM Brian Cashman] was able to blow everyone out of the water" by committing $423 million to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, Madden writes. The Yankees are expected to battle with the Tigers, Rangers, Red Sox and Mets for players that include Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Grant Balfour, Jhonny Peralta and Masahiro Tanaka.
- The Orioles are expected to hire Braves special assistant Dom Chiti as their bullpen coach, industry sources tell Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com.
Grant Balfour is expected to sign with a new team as a free agent this offseason after three excellent years with the A's -- two of which came as the team's closer. According to the latest from Susan Slusser at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Yankees, Tigers, Rockies, Rays and Angels have all expressed interest in the hard-throwing Aussie.
Balfour, 36 in December, saved 62 games for the A's over the past two seasons as their primary ninth-inning option and has a sparkling 2.47 ERA with 9.2 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 254 2/3 innings dating back to 2010. It's a buyer's market for closers this offseason, with Balfour, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Chris Perez, Jose Veras, Edward Mujica and Kevin Gregg among the free agents who saved at least 20 games this past season. Brian Wilson, who returned as a dominant setup man, figures to garner interest for ninth inning jobs as well.
Interest between the Tigers and Balfour will turn a few heads due to the fact that Balfour's signature shouting on the mound didn't sit well with Victor Martinez in the ALDS, leading to a benches-clearing confrontation. Still the Tigers figure to add at least one high-profile arm this winter after opening last season with no set closer and experiencing ugly results from a carousel of relievers until Benoit solidified the job.
The Athletics have announced that they will not extend qualifying offers to free agents Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour. Neither player will require a new team to sacrifice a draft pick this winter. The move isn't surprising, given the $14.1MM value of a qualifying offer.
Colon would've been more likely to earn a qualifying offer than Balfour. The 40-year-old enjoyed a dominant season in which he pitched to a 2.65 ERA with 5.5 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 190 1/3 innings for the A's. Colon earned a $3MM base salary and totaled another $2.4MM via incentives for games started and innings pitched, so the $14.1MM value would've been a substantial increase over his 2013 salary. Still, he projects to earn a healthy increase from that $5.4MM total on the open market. Colon and the A's have expressed mutual interest, and Colon feels that he can pitch for another three seasons.
Balfour, 36 in December, saved 38 games for the A's in 2013 en route to a sparkling 2.59 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9, earning his first All-Star berth in the process. I pegged his open-market value at $18MM over two years in my free agent profile of Balfour, though that should come with the caveat that there are more closers than jobs availble this winter. If he's left standing in January, Balfour won't be able to land that type of cash, so it would behoove him and agent Keith Miller of ACES to find a deal early on in the free agent process.
There's been quite a bit of managerial buzz around the league with the large number of new openings, but all has been fairly quiet on the Mariners front until now. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the Mariners will interview Athletics bench coach Chip Hale for their managerial vacancy. Hale hit .277/.346/.363 in 652 plate appearances over parts of seven Major League seasons (with all but 14 of his PAs coming in a Twins uniform). His impressive coaching background includes two years with the A's, two with the Mets and six seasons of minor league managerial experience with the D-Backs. Here's more out of the AL West...
- The Athletics are "almost certain" to let Grant Balfour depart via free agency, writes MLB.com's Jane Lee in her latest Inbox column. The A's typically don't spend big money on relievers, believing them to be too volatile a commodity. The door remains slightly open due to heavy competition for Balfour on the open market, as Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney and Brian Wilson will all be free agents as well. In profiling Balfour last week, I pegged his market value at a two-year, $18MM deal.
- Within his own MLB.com Inbox column, T.R. Sullivan writes that the Rangers don't think as highly of Masahiro Tanaka as they did of Yu Darvish when they acquired his services two years ago.
- The thumbprints of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow are all over the Cardinals, writes Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. Luhnow says that he still has a bond with several of the Cardinals players he selected in the draft and tends to root for them, but he's currently focused on and excited for the Astros' future. Houston owner Jim Crane has repeatedly said that the Cards are the model franchise for the Astros.
Most relievers don't have to wait until age 34 to get their first crack at a closing gig, but the wait has been worth it for Grant Balfour. The Aussie right-hander missed two full seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery following a promising debut with the Twins in his age 25-26 seasons. He rediscovered himself in Tampa Bay before heading to the A's in 2011. Balfour was handed the ninth inning in his second season with Oakland, and has racked up 62 saves from 2012-13 for the back-to-back AL West champions.
Strikeouts are the name of the game for Balfour, and few free agent relievers have been better than him in 2013. Balfour's 10.8 K/9 trails only Jesse Crain, Fernando Rodney and Carlos Marmol among impending free agent relievers. Crain comes with health concerns, Marmol's struggles are well documented and Rodney's a year older with inferior command.
Balfour doesn't have the near-95-mph fastball average that he had in his best season with the Rays (2008), but his 2013 average of 93.4 mph is plenty respectable. It's also his best mark since that dominant 2008 season, so his stuff isn't in a state of decline.
While Balfour clearly had injury problems early on in his career, he hasn't hit the disabled list with an arm injury since his 2006 shoulder surgery. He's appeared in at least 57 games in each of the past six seasons.
Balfour lived up to his somewhat ironic last name early in his career, averaging 4.7 walks per nine innings in parts of six seasons from 2001-09. However, since that time he's averaged just 3.3 walks per nine while striking out more than a batter per inning. He hasn't posted a single-season ERA north of 2.59 since 2009, and he won't be tied to draft pick compensation, as the cost-conscious A's won't risk offering a $14MM qualifying offer.
As previously mentioned, Balfour's been healthy for each of the past two seasons, but he does have a long list of injuries throughout his career. He underwent knee surgery this past offseason to repair a torn meniscus, and he spent time on the DL with oblique and intercostal strains in 2010 and 2011. While a great deal of his injuries are in the past, a 36-year-old reliever that's gone under the knife three times does come with some risk.
His command has been solid over the past four seasons, but ihis BB/9 mark has actually crept upward incrementally since 2010. While he's still considerably better than he was early on in his career, Balfour's 3.9 BB/9 in 2013 is on the high side. He's also uncorked nine wild pitches in 2013 despite entering the season with just 12 in his entire career.
Impressive as Balfour's overall numbers are in recent years, much of those numbers come from a significant home/road split. O.co Colliseum is one of the game's most pitcher-friendly environments, and Balfour has a 1.58 ERA in 113 2/3 innings there, compared to a more pedestrian 3.78 ERA in 85 2/3 innings on the road. He's averaged 0.71 HR/9 at home and 1.05 HR/9 on the road. Teams in smaller parks may be wary of Balfour, whose career ground-ball rate is just 35.2 percent.
Balfour is known as an intense, fiery competitor and often shouts (and curses) to himself on the mound to get his adrenaline flowing. Sports are in his blood, as the A's media guide tells us that his father was a rugby player in their native Australia and is now the general manager of the Australian Baseball League's Sydney Blue Sox. Balfour played rugby as well through college and spent much of his amateur career as a catcher. He and his wife, Angie, have a daughter together.
Balfour will have plenty of competition on the open market with Rodney, Joe Nathan, Joaquin Benoit and Brian Wilson all hitting free agency as well. Balfour doesn't lead that group in strikeouts, control, fastball velocity or saves, but agent Keith Miller of ACES can point to the fact that his client possesses the best mix of youth and health among those peers. Though he turns 36 in December, he's younger than Nathan, Benoit and Rodney, and unlike Wilson, Balfour isn't coming off of a major surgical procedure.
For what it's worth, 69 percent of respondents in the recent Free Agent Faceoff that I conducted between Balfour and Benoit felt that Balfour was the superior option.
He recently acknowledged how important it was for him to pitch a clean ninth inning in Game 5 of the ALDS, even though the A's were losing, as he knew it could have been his last appearance for the A's. Oakland will obviously have a place for him, but he could be too spendy for the A's after two strong seasons as a closer. Balfour earned just $12.25MM over the course of his three years with the A's, but the price tag will be higher now. If not Oakland, he could be a fit for the Tigers, Yankees, Angels, Mariners, Brewers or Rockies. The Orioles and Indians could be in the mix as well, should either team decide to non-tender its high-priced incumbent.
Following the 2011 season, Nathan was able to secure a two-year, $14.5MM contract with the Rangers coming off an uninspiring return season from Tommy John surgery. Balfour's recent injury history isn't as concerning, and he's hitting the market a year younger than Nathan was at that time. While he doesn't have Nathan's track record as one of the game's elite closers, I expect that agent Miller will consider Nathan's old contract the floor for his client -- and rightfully so.
Relievers rarely get three guaranteed years at this stage of their careers. Heath Bell managed three years and $27MM, but he did so as he was entering his age-35 season. Balfour will begin next season as a 36-year-old, but should be able to match Bell in terms of average annual value. I expect that Balfour will end up signing a two-year, $18MM contract, perhaps with a vesting or club option that will allow him to match Bell's contract if he remains healthy.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Earlier today, Bartolo Colon told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he'd like to return to the A's next season and feels that he could pitch another three years in the Majors. At the time, it wasn't known if the A's were interested in a reunion, but in their postseason address to the media, both manager Bob Melvin and GM Billy Beane said they are interested in bringing Colon back for a third season (via Slusser and John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group on Twitter). Beane went so far as to say it'd be "foolish" for the team not to be interested. Here's more from on the A's...
- Closer Grant Balfour isn't satisfied with only making the playoffs, he told reporters, including MLB.com's Jane Lee. Balfour said he intends to keep playing until he can win a World Series (Twitter link).
- Balfour also acknowledged to CSNBayArea.com's Casey Pratt that he wanted to make sure the inning he pitched in Game 5 last night was a good one, because he knew it may have been his last frame with the team (also on Twitter).
- Melvin said today that the A's are well-equipped to handle the potential loss of Balfour, as internal options Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle could take over as closer (via CSN California's Joe Stiglich on Twitter). As Stiglich goes on to caution, that comment doesn't mean Doolittle or Cook will close in 2014. The A's would likely explore the free agent relief market in that scenario for an additional arm to plug into the mix.
- Beane said that the A's will exercise Coco Crisp's $7.5MM option following the season and implied that they will do the same with Brett Anderson's $8MM option (via Slusser).
- Crisp said that he'd like to think the A's would want to discuss retaining him beyond the 2014 season (via Hickey).
- Top prospect Addison Russell will open 2014 at Double-A "at the lowest," according to Beane, who then added that "anything can happen" once a player reaches Double-A (Stiglich reporting).
- Beane feels that if Chris Young, whose contract contains an $11MM club option, doesn't return to the team, Michael Choice can serve as a right-handed outfielder for the team (Lee reporting). It seems logical that the A's would decline the option after Young batted just .200/.280/.379 this season.
MLBTradeRumors is firing up this year's vesion of the Free Agent Faceoff series, in which two comparable free agents are analyzed side by side. Each post will conclude with a reader vote on the value of the two players.
The free agent market for relievers with closing experience isn't exactly stacked this year, nor is it a particularly youthful crop. However, if you're looking for a solid arm with ninth inning experience that's still plenty successful in spite of his age, Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour are two of the better guys to turn to.
Balfour, a native of Australia, has served as Oakland's closer for the past two seasons and was their setup man in 2011. He's thrived in both roles, posting a combined 2.57 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 37 percent ground-ball rate in 196 1/3 innings. His FIP (3.43) and xFIP (3.63) both suggest that his ERA could come up a good deal. He's averaged 93 mph on his heater in that time but is averaging an even more impressive 93.4 mph in 2013. Balfour has also shown an ability to suppress home runs throughout his career -- just 7.9 percent of fly-balls against him have gone for homers. He will turn 36 years old in late December.
Benoit turned 36 in July and has similar stats to Balfour. He's posted a 2.89 ERA with 9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 38.9 percent ground-ball rate in 193 1/3 innings since 2011. He throws noticably harder -- averaging 93.9 mph on his fastball and sitting at 94.1 mph in 2013 -- and generates more swinging strikes than Balfour (14.9 percent compared to 9.1 percent). However, Benoit has proven more susceptible to the long ball, yielding more homers in 2012 alone than Balfour has in 2012-13 combined. For his career, 9.9 percent of the fly-balls hit against Benoit have gone for homers. Like Balfour, Benoit has outperformed both FIP (3.39) and xFIP (3.27) over the past three seasons.
Both Balfour and Benoit will pitch most of next season at 36 (Benoit will turn 37 just prior to the trade deadline). Both average a strikeout per inning or better with solid command and a fly-ball profile, and both have done well when handed a closer's job late in their careers. It can be argued that Benoit's advantage in strikeouts and walks can be offset by Balfour's stingier ways with home runs, lower ERA and slight age advantage, begging the question...
The A's announced that they exercised their club option for Grant Balfour and declined their side of Stephen Drew's mutual option (Twitter link). Balfour will earn $4.5MM to return to Oakland in 2013. Drew, whose option was valued at $10MM, will hit free agency and obtain a $1.35MM buyout.
Balfour appeared in 75 games for the A's this past season, spending much of the year as Bob Melvin's closer. The 34-year-old right-hander collected 24 saves, posting 8.7 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 74 2/3 innings.
Drew, 29, appeared in 39 regular season games for the A's following the midseason trade that sent him from Arizona to Oakland. The shortstop posted a combined batting line of .223/.309/.348 in 327 plate appearances between the two leagues. He projects as one of the top shortstops available in a free agent class that doesn't feature many impact infielders and could even be a fit in Oakland again. Drew will be free to sign with any team starting Saturday.