Grant Balfour was off the market, and the rest of baseball was forced to move on. The Cleveland Indians signed John Axford and the San Diego Padres went for Joaquin Benoit. But not every deal that is agreed to turns into reality. The Baltimore Orioles saw something in Balfour’s right shoulder in his physical, and that was enough to scare them away from finalizing their two-year, $15 million deal with him. Now Balfour is back on the market, only with diminished demand and the reports of the injury scaring potential suitors away. But for one team, the injury could be exactly the break they were looking for, and that team is the Tampa Bay Rays.
In a market that saw non-closing relievers Joe Smith and Boone Logan each get over $15 million over a three-year deals, the contract that Balfour signed was not so exorbitant. $7.5 million a year for two years is nothing to scoff at, especially from a Rays perspective, but Balfour is coming off a season that saw him save 38 games with a 2.59 ERA in 65 appearances, striking out 72 while walking just 27 in 62.2 innings pitched. He may be turning 36 in ten days, but that 2.59 ERA was his worst in the last four years. He has established himself as an elite closer, and getting that type of player for $7.5 million a year is a great value. And now, Balfour may be attainable on a one-year deal, maybe even one that would guarantee him less than than $7.5 million. If Balfour really has a shoulder injury, then don’t sign him. But signing him for just one year mitigates the risk, and as we saw with Mike Napoli last year, sometimes teams overreact. Whichever team goes in and signs Balfour would be taking a risk, but the possibility for reward is outstanding. Why can’t the Rays be that team?
The Rays will never be high spenders, but this offseason they have already signed James Loney to a three-year, $21 million deal, extended David DeJesus and Ryan Hanigan, and were not afraid to spend $5.5 million on Heath Bell for next season to facilitate the trade for Hanigan. Grant Balfour is arguably as good as any of those players, and signing him would make the Rays bullpen the best in baseball between him, Bell, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Alex Torres, and Juan Carlos Oviedo. If the Rays are confident enough that Grant Balfour’s shoulder issue will not be a concern for this season and see his price dip to the point where they are comfortable paying it, expect the Rays to sign him. And if they do, Balfour could very well become their latest relief steal.