Retaining Balfour would help the A's return to the playoffs, but he comes with a lot of baggage. A's general manager Billy Beane needs to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of bringing backs his closer.
He Locks Down the Ninth Inning
Balfour served as a set-up man for the Tampa Bay Rays and worked the eighth inning in front of Andrew Bailey in his first year with the A's.
Once Bailey was traded in the Josh Reddick steal of a deal, Balfour took over as the team's closer and proceeded to slam the door for the next two years, averaging a 2.56 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
The veteran reeled off 44 consecutive saves, breaking Dennis Eckersley's club record, and earned his first All-Star nod in 2013.
He's a Great Fit in Oakland
On a team full of young stars like Josh Donaldson and Sonny Gray, Balfour and fellow free agent Bartolo Colon are two of the only vets.
Pitching talents aside, Colon's mild-mannered demeanor is far more replaceable than Balfour's fiery rage. If Balfour leaves, the silence and stillness from the right field bleachers will be deafening.
Balfour has flashed his competitive spirit twice in the playoffs, getting into it with Orlando Cabrera in 2008 and Victor Martinez last year before retiring both hitters. It never hurts to have an enforcer at the end of a close game.
Balfour may be relatively new to closing, but he has spent plenty of time in the majors. He broke in with the Minnesota Twins back in 2001, and will turn 36 this winter.
That's awfully old for a pitcher, especially one with a history of forearm, shoulder, knee and elbow injuries. While Balfour has moved on from his Tommy John surgery from 2005 and torn rotator cuff and labrum from 2006, the A's have reason to be concerned as he ages.
He Broke Down Late in the Season
Balfour put together a legitimate case as the American League's best closer in the first half of the season. Come August and September, things were a little different.
He couldn't throw strikes, and when he did, they were hard-hit mistake pitches. Balfour had a 1.76 ERA on August 26, but closed out the year by giving up eight earned runs in 11.2 innings.
Every late-season save situation seemed to end with Balfour saying he was gassed, running on fumes or some other declaration of being burnt out. Sure, he'll have the offseason to recover, but the A's will have to watch his workload if he returns.
He's Replaceable for a Lesser Price
Billy Beane pioneered the art of trading the closer, pulling in lucrative packages for Billy Taylor, Andrew Bailey and Billy Koch. While Balfour's free agency makes him untradeable, Beane's track record shows how little faith he has in long-term closers.
Balfour is due for a big payday after raking in $4.5 million last year. As always, the A's will need to be financially conservative and might not meet Balfour's salary demands.
So who would replace Balfour? Set-up man Ryan Cook is the obvious answer, though Beane could also look for outside help like the Rays' Jesse Crain.
Balfour has been very good for the A's over the past three years, but it's time to cut ties. Re-signing him would be a sizable investment, one Oakland cannot afford to make.
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