As Andrew Rickli tweets, the Rays have signed 36-year old closer Grant Balfour. Marc Topkin follows up by tweeting the deal is worth $12 million dollars over 2 years. The Rays had previously announced they had big news that they would reveal at a news conference today at 4:15, so this is presumably the news.
This will be Balfour’s second stint with the Rays after he previously pitched for the team from 2007-2010. Balfour broke out with the Rays in 2008, and since then has pitched to a 2.78 ERA with a 9.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 383 outings; establish himself as one the most efficient relievers in all of baseball. He has only posted an ERA above 3.00 once in that time frame. Balfour took over as closer for the Oakland Athletics in 2012, and has saved 62 games for them over the last two seasons. Balfour features a fastball that sits around 92-94 MPH that has a tendency to jump at hitters. He also features a slider and a curveball, the second of which is the more effective pitch.
Previously this offseason, Balfour had an agreement with the Baltimore Orioles on a 2-year $15 million contract. However, the Orioles controversially backed out due to issues with his physical. At first, it seemed that Balfour’s shoulder was in question, but multiple sources, including Rays’ team doctor Koco Eaton, claimed Balfour’s shoulder was healthy. Buster Olney later tweeted that the issues were with his knee and wrist. The Rays obviously don’t think that his health is in question, as Friedman would not likely commit this kind of money to a player that had significant red flags. In fact, Balfour’s health questions were actually of benefit to the Rays, as it helped him fall to within the Rays’ price range.
This is an amazing signing for the Rays. It gives them a proven 9th inning option who has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the big leagues in the last five years. The Rays had plenty of options to pitch the 9th inning in Jake McGee, Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Joel Peralta, and the recently traded Alex Torres. But all of these pitchers came with question marks, either due to lack of experience, poor performance the last couple of years, or injuries. Balfour gives the Rays their closer from Day 1, and is a pretty sure bet to post an ERA below 3.00 or under while saving 30+ games. Having Balfour also allows the Rays to ensure all their relievers have a set role, rather than all of them being shifted around in a closer-by-committee system.
This signing also puts light on the Rays trading of Alex Torres for Logan Forsythe. Torres was a young, controllable arm, but he became expendable, especially with the acquisition of Balfour. In fact, the Rays have upgraded the bullpen significantly the last two days, exchanging Torres for Brad Boxberger and Balfour. That trade gave the Rays more starting depth in Matt Andriese, and the acquisition of Balfour makes Torres’ loss more than acceptable. The Rays have made many win-now moves this offseason, but the trade helps them ensure they are looking after their future as well.
Once again, Andrew Friedman has made a great move. This move further continues the Rays’ aggressive offseason that has already seen them re-sign James Loney, Jose Molina, and Juan Carlos Oviedo extend David DeJesus, and acquire Ryan Hanigan, Heath Bell, Forsythe, and Boxberger. It also looks more and more likely that David Price will be retained for 2014. The Rays have made huge moves this offseason, and look set to make a run for the Word Series in 2014, especially if David Price is in fact retained. Be excited Rays fans–the Rays are going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2014.