MLB Free Agency

Is Grant Balfour Now a Viable Buy-Low Option on MLB Free-Agent Closer Market?

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 07:  Grant Balfour #50 of the Oakland Athletics reacts after defeating the Detroit Tigers 6-3 in Game Three of the American League Division Series at Comerica Park on October 7, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Ely SussmanCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2013

After trading away closer Jim Johnson in early December, the Baltimore Orioles locked in on free agent Grant Balfour as their ideal replacement.

They even reached a two-year agreement with the right-hander this past Tuesday, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Only a routine physical exam stood between them and an official deal.

However, executive vice president Dan Duquette stated that Balfour's performance on the exam didn't meet Baltimore's standards, according to Kubatko:

The Orioles were disappointed that we couldn't complete a contract with Grant Balfour," Duquette said. "The reason is the club's not satisfied with the results of the physical exam.

We would never say never or close the door, but we're turning our attention elsewhere for now to look at some other options to try to staff our team and try to build a contending team for 2014.

Now, the other 29 MLB teams have an opportunity to get him. Question is, what exactly will they be getting?

Per Kubatko, Duquette wants "to protect confidentiality," so we don't know which of Balfour's bodily regions is damaged, nor can we infer what the severity of the injury is.

The only irrefutable statement that can be made about the fiery Australian is that he's among the best closer candidates remaining:

Free-Agent Closer Candidates, 2010-2013 Stats
NameIPERAFIPK/9SV
Grant Balfour254.22.473.259.1564
Jesse Crain*218.02.393.209.832
Kevin Gregg224.14.014.358.1892
Chris Perez234.13.194.038.18123
Fernando Rodney241.12.913.218.84102
Francisco Rodriguez247.23.053.209.8861
FanGraphs

*Finished 2013 on the disabled list (shoulder strain).

If whatever ails Balfour is benign enough to heal prior to Opening Day 2014, then he could still be in line for a multi-year deal elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there's a possibility that he's battling a legitimate injury. Notice the contrast between the first four and final two months of his age-35 season:

Grant Balfour, 2013 Stats
MonthsIPERABB/9SV%
April-July43.01.882.9396.6
August-September19.24.125.9583.3
Baseball-Reference.com

Balfour threw a lower percentage of strikes down the stretch, and his shaky results reflected that. That's worth noting because command issues occasionally arise when an injured pitcher modifies his delivery to avoid using a sensitive muscle group.

Then again, Balfour's velocity barely varied at all throughout the summer. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastballs averaged between 93.57 and 94.37 miles per hour during every month of the regular season.

Balfour fans can breathe sighs of relief. If there were a torn ligament in his elbow or shoulder, for example, we would expect to observe reduced heat.

Nonetheless, the Orioles must've uncovered something substantial. The fact that Duquette expressed no willingness to renegotiate with Balfour after valuing him at $15 million mere days ago indicates that he probably isn't fit to take the mound at the moment.

Balfour finished the 2012 regular season with style.
Balfour finished the 2012 regular season with style.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Perhaps, Balfour's heavy workload toward the end of 2012 has caught up to him.

The Oakland Athletics used him on five consecutive days from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 in order to ensure an AL West title. In each of those last four appearances, he completed a full inning on zero days' rest. That's a streak matched by only 10 pitchers so far this millennium!

But so much for that theory. Balfour tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he's physically in All-Star form:

Grant Balfour is mystified by #Orioles backing out of deal because of health concerns, tells me he is "100 percent fine." #Athletics

— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) December 20, 2013

More Balfour: "My shoulder is fine, everything is fine. I'm ready to come out there in the ninth inning, do what I do." #Athletics #Orioles

— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) December 20, 2013

Although Balfour doesn't consider himself a buy-low candidate, the fact remains that Baltimore backed away from him, thus shrinking his list of potential suitors. As a free agent, he's fighting for the best contract possible, and other teams recognize that, so they're more likely to trust Duquette's words over his.

Prior to that aforementioned stretch of August/September sloppiness, Balfour had spent the previous few years flaunting above-average swing-and-miss stuff and complementing it with solid strike-throwing ability. Consistency distinguished him from Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney and everybody else who's still on the market.

Therefore, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners (among others) shouldn't hesitate to inquire about Balfour and haggle for a discounted-yet-incentive-laden deal.

 

Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.

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