When the Baltimore Orioles backed out of their two-year, $15 million contract with Grant Balfour after not liking something in his physical, it was thought to be because of something in his right shoulder. That was what we thought, but it was later refuted by Rays team doctor Koco Eaton, who did an MRI on Balfour’s shoulder and saw that it was identical to what it had looked like three years earlier. But an important thing to note is than Eaton did an MRI on Balfour’s shoulder and nowhere else. Buster Olney reports that the Orioles actually nullified their deal because of concerns with Balfour’s wrist and knee.
Balfour was healthy for the entire 2013 regular season and had an excellent year with the Oakland Athletics, but he did undergo meniscus surgery in his right knee that sidelined him until March 21st. After any sort of surgery, teams are going to be especially careful to make sure that their prospective signing has put it in the past, and adding a wrist injury to the equation only makes teams more weary. But the questions now are how Balfour and his agent, Trevor Jarrett, will play this free agency knowing that there are injury concerns and how teams decide to treat Balfour in light of the possible injuries.
Unfortunately for Balfour, he is at a disadvantage right from the start. A weak market for closers led to a deal with the Orioles that gave him less money than we would have expected entering the season, and now that two-year, $15 million contract is the most he could possibly get. Balfour and Jarrett now have two options: to take a one-year deal with incentives and try to get the big payday next offseason or to take a lesser two-year deal, say worth $10 million. The possibility of a one-year pillow deal always looks nice, but the issue is the number of quality closers that are set to be available next offseason. Jim Johnson, Casey Janssen, and Rafael Soriano are all established closers, and Jason Grilli, Sergio Romo, J.J. Putz, Jason Motte, and Heath Bell have all experienced success in that role as well. It may have seemed like there were a lot of quality relief options this offseason, but in reality, relievers are always available, and that could put Balfour’s market in an undesirable place next offseason as well. And if Balfour were to hit the disabled list, there are so many closer options available that he may simply get lost in the shuffle. Balfour turned 36 on December 30th and this was his offseason to cash in. But will teams even give him the opportunity to do so?
As soon as Balfour’s deal with the Orioles started to collapse, Jim Bowden tweeted that the Rays were interested in signing him. But with the Rays not having too much money to spare with their payroll already hitting record heights, they would need injury protection in any deal. The Rays or other teams would certainly be willing to give Balfour a one-year deal with incentives that could bring it to $5 million or maybe even the $7.5 million he started out with if they are reasonably confident that he will be healthy. But would a team be willing to give Balfour that deal but then add in a vesting option at the end that triggers if Balfour finishes 50 games?
The second round of Grant Balfour bidding is going to end up much lower than the first, and all of a sudden teams with less funds like the Rays and the Cleveland Indians could have a real chance to sign him. The New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners have also been interested and will still be involved, but now the negotiations are about more than just money. Grant Balfour is a talented pitcher, and there is little doubt that he will ink a deal that gives him the chance to earn $5 million with incentives by the time the offseason is through. But will Balfour take a deal like that, or will he hold out for two years? Will teams stick to offering him one-year deals, or will some team propose a vesting option or even a second year? There are a multiplicity of variables to contend with now, and we can’t be sure how this saga will end.