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.”
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.