Everyone wanted Grant Balfour to succeed. He was the conquering hero returning home to the Tampa Bay Rays after he had ascended to become a closer with the Oakland Athletics. The Baltimore Orioles were about to sign him before an issue with his physical got in the way, and the Rays had a chance to rub that in their division rivals’ faces. Then, even after last year, he could have been the next Rays reclamation project, the next to defy the odds to get back in track.
Unfortunately, a solid performance down the stretch in 2014 and the tribute to his father who passed away will be the only positives that we can take from Grant Balfour’s Rays tenure. He simply wasn’t the same pitcher. His fastball velocity slipped from 94.48 MPH in 2013 to 92.66 MPH last year and 90.84 MPH this season. His slider remains a decent pitch, but there was no good fastball to set it up and it simply could not do the job by itself.
The way it ended for Grant Balfour in his second go-around with the Rays was a little sad as Chris Young drilled a grand slam for the New York Yankees. Heath Bell‘s conclusion was eerily similar as he also allowed 3 runs against the Yankees back on May 3rd of last year. Interestingly enough, Balfour hadn’t allowed a run entering the game, but the team knew that it was only a matter of time. They saw the drop in velocity and all of the flyballs that came up just short of the wall.
Don’t come back to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays haven’t had the luxury of bringing back stars who had joined other franchises too often, but when they have, the moves have never worked out well. Take Balfour, Carlos Pena in 2012, or even Fred McGriff in 2004. As Rays fans look around the league at their team’s former players, any yearning to bring them back should be accompanied by this reminder: it probably won’t work out, and it will just leave everyone disappointed.
But what can the Rays really do? If Ben Zobrist is still productive after the 2018 season and they have the chance to bring back a player who was so critical to their success, would they really say no? All of these low-cost signings are great, but the Balfours of the world can be the holy grail when they work out. Baseball in a business, but you always want to mix business with pleasure. You always want to show appreciation for the players who helped you rise to prominence.
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Instead, we come back to a principal tenet of Tampa Bay Rays baseball: emotion can’t be involved. They extended Evan Longoria, their best player, but he may be the only exception. Everyone else will get traded if necessary whether it be Zobrist, David Price, or James Shields. When the choice is between feeling good about your loyalty to your players and continuing your franchise’s success, the decision is clear. It feels terrible, but it also makes your team better off. That is what everyone truly wants in the end.
The early termination of Grant Balfour’s Rays tenure is upsetting, but the Rays were playing with fire from the start and should have known. That is not the way that this team can operate, and no matter how heartless that seems, that is that reality. Now all we can do is wish Balfour the best of luck and hope that the situation of a veteran Ray wanting to return doesn’t happen again for a long time.