Grant Balfour Rumors
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.
Athletics GM Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin met with reporters today to discuss Oakland’s remarkable 2012 season and look ahead toward the club’s offseason plans. Here are some highlights (all links go to Twitter):
- Melvin suggested the A’s are ready to discuss a new contract with Jonny Gomes, saying his situation is “a work in progress,” Jane Lee of MLB.com reports. Gomes' one-year, $1MM contract expires following the World Series, but it sounds as though the Bay Area native could return for another year.
- Beane said he likes this team and wants it back in 2013, Lee reports. The A’s are interested in retaining potential free agents like Gomes and Brandon McCarthy if possible.
- Beane hinted that the A’s will exercise Grant Balfour’s contract option, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "Some things are no-brainers," Beane said. Balfour's contract includes a $4.5MM club option for 2013 with a $350K buyout.
- Beane said he would be "absolutely baffled" if Melvin isn't named the AL Manager of the Year, Lee reports.
The Mets are interested in Jonathan Broxton and Grant Balfour as they look to improve their bullpen before the July 31st trade deadline. They're definitely showing interest in Broxton, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter), and Newsday's David Lennon says they're also targeting Balfour (Twitter link).
However, the Mets are not close on any deal involving a reliever, ESPN.com's Buster Olney reported today (on Twitter). They remain in "wait-and-see" mode for now. Though the Mets' bullpen is in rough shape, they've convinced some doubters they're a dangerous club, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote earlier today.
Most of the top available starting pitchers currently play in the National League, but there’s still lots of trade talk in the AL this summer. Buster Olney provides updates on the junior circuit trade market in today’s column at ESPN.com. Here are some highlights:
- The Mariners won’t trade Felix Hernandez, but Kevin Millwood, Chone Figgins, Jason Vargas and Brandon League could be dealt.
- The Red Sox have focused on adding starting pitching. Some executives believe the Rangers will make a big play for the best starting pitchers available.
- Meanwhile, the White Sox have been asking around about relievers.
- Teams have called about Seth Smith, but the Athletics will keep him. However, Kurt Suzuki could be available and the A’s will listen to offers for Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour.
- The Indians figure to pursue right-handed bats and Carlos Quentin could be an option in Cleveland, Olney writes.
- The Blue Jays plan to assess their chances at the All-Star break, and some rival officials expect Toronto to sell.
- The Orioles need pitching, but Olney doesn’t expect the team to make a major addition. Similarly, the Twins figure to seek pitching in any midseason trades they consider.
- Here’s MLBTR’s recap of Olney’s look at the NL trade market.
The A's could be gearing up for a sale closer to the deadline, but for now Oakland sits at 37-40 as they enter tonight's game in Texas and may look to see how things play out. In the interim, the club would like to move left-hander Brian Fuentes. Here's the latest out of Oakland..
- In addition to Fuentes, the A's will also be willing to move Brandon McCarthy once he is healthy, major league sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The right-hander has a 2.54 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 through 12 starts this season. However, Rosenthal notes that his injury concerns could require extra rest from which ever team may acquire him. Sources add that the A's are under no financial pressure to make moves.
- The A’s also are open to moving right-hander Grant Balfour, but will seek more in return than they would for McCarthy, Rosenthal writes. Balfour is under control for 2013 with a $4.5MM club option.
- A source also tells Rosenthal that outfielder/DH Seth Smith is unlikely to be traded. Smith makes just $2.415MM this season and is and under club control through 2014.
- Fuentes politely declined to comment when asked about trade rumors or whether he has requested a trade, tweets Joe Stiglich of the Bay Area News Group.
At 5.21, the Mets have the worst bullpen ERA in baseball by three-tenths of a run. Closer Frank Francisco is out with an oblique injury and Bobby Parnell has taken over ninth inning responsibilities, leaving the setup work to Jon Rauch and Miguel Batista. Ken Davidoff of The New York Post writes that the club is looking for bullpen help outside the organization.
“It’s not too early to do the research,” said assistant GM John Ricco. “It’s probably too early to make a move, although each year there is several pre-emptive ones. For the seller more than the buyer.”
Ricco also indicated that sometimes “you try to catch lightning in a bottle,” using the team's 2006 acquisition of Guillermo Mota as an example. Mota pitched to 6.21 ERA in 34 games for the Indians before being sent to New York and posting a 1.00 ERA in 18 appearances that year.
GM Sandy Alderson told Davidoff that the club hasn't ruled out the possibility of adding payroll, but they are weary of trading top-shelf prospects for volatile relievers. Davidoff mentions that the Mets are likely to get involved in any trade talks for Brett Myers and Huston Street, and not to rule out Grant Balfour as well.