Grant Balfour: 5 Teams Who Will Call for Athletics Closer by the Deadline
The Grant Balfour sweepstakes?
It’s a contest that could heat up as the MLB season inches closer to the trade deadline. The Oakland Athletics aren’t expected to contend in the AL West this season and don’t show solid promise of being a surprise team, having been shut out four times but also recording four shutout wins.
Balfour, who was made the Oakland closer after Andrew Bailey was traded to Boston over the winter, boasts a 0.82 ERA and has recorded five saves almost a month into regular season. ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney said via Twitter on Monday that Balfour would be the best relief pitcher to trade for right now.
Who’s more than likely to give A’s General Manager Billy Beane a call sometime to try to grab the 34-year-old Australian? Here are five teams that are expected to be postseason contenders who might be desperate for a good reliever down the stretch.
5. San Francisco Giants
Teams don’t have to “fear the beard” of Brian Wilson anymore, and Sergio Romo—with his own scruff—Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt don’t really rattle the minds of opposing batters.
The Giants have three saves, all by three different pitchers. San Francisco has 23-year-old Heath Hembree, who’s saved 43 games in the minors over the past three seasons, at Triple-A Fresno. What’s to say Beane asks Hembree for Balfour straight up? Would the Giants bite?
Beane could sell that Balfour is a veteran reliever who is proven at the major league level, and Hembree isn’t. If the NL West standings are that close in July and San Francisco suffers a significant injury to one of its relievers, it could happen.
4. Minnesota Twins
The Twins want a return to their status as AL Central king, having won six division titles in the last 10 years, but their pitching staff has been unstable, currently owning the second-worst ERA in MLB. Ron Gardenhire doesn’t want the idea that it’s time for a change in Minnesota to develop, so he'll try to convince upper management to do what it can for a playoff push.
Might the Twins offer Josh Willingham for Balfour in a straight up trade? It’d be fair—a good bat for a good arm—and this could happen a lot sooner than later if both the A’s and Twins sink fast.
3. New York Yankees
The Yankees don’t “need” an arm, but they wouldn’t mind adding to the ones they have or taking away a from one of their AL East rivals. Why not offer Oakland catcher Russell Martin and a prospect for Balfour and Kurt Suzuki? It’s balanced, and Martin or Suzuki could easily be moved by either team if they’re not determined to be a long-term fit.
Also, Mariano Rivera is probably calling it quits after this season. Could adding Balfour this year set up next year's bullpen?
If New York is smart, it’d move on this, because there are two other teams in its hotly contested division that will likely and probably already have inquired about Balfour.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are going to need to do something to at least beat out the Yankees bats and reach the postseason for the third consecutive season, and having the fourth-worst ERA in MLB isn’t going to cut it.
Balfour, who came from Tampa Bay in 2011, may not mind a return to the Rays. Beane may look at Carlos Pena and figure he’s bat they could use to complement Yoenis Cespedes if the Manny Ramirez project crashes. If Beane throws in a prospect or two with Balfour, the Rays may bite.
There’s one team, however, that may actually get on its knees and beg the A’s to trade another reliever to them.
1. Boston Red Sox
When your bullpen allows 15 straight unanswered runs, no matter the team, you’re in trouble.
The Red Sox need help. Balfour is a proven reliever. The A’s have a trade history with Boston the past few seasons. This is the slam dunk No. 1 destination for Balfour.
Who would the Red Sox send back to Oakland?
It’s a dream situation. He’s getting older, the A’s love old bats and he’d be expendable. Oakland doesn’t need prospects from Boston. They grabbed a bunch in offseason trades, including the one that sent Bailey to the Red Sox in December.
Should it come to whether or not the Red Sox make the playoffs, they’ll make a big push for Balfour. Bobby Valentine might demand it. He’s on a hot seat less than a month into the season, and without a healthy closer with Bailey recovering from thumb surgery, he’s on eggshells in the late innings of a close game.
As a relieving tandem last year, Balfour recorded 26 holds as Oakland’s setup man and Bailey 24 saves as the closer. If Balfour can go to Boston as a closer first, then settle into a setup role once Bailey returns, they'd be a golden combo.
If Boston’s smart, it’ll call Beane now rather than later to wrap this up. It’d be a shame for the Sox if those dreaded Yankees snatch another arm from their grasp just because they can.
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