After trading Jim Johnson and his back-to-back 50-plus save seasons, it makes sense that the Baltimore Orioles would be looking to find a cheaper alternative to fill the ninth-inning role during the Winter Meetings.
That said, they probably want to tread lightly down the path that could lead them to Grant Balfour.
Somewhat ironically, a Balfour-O’s union would complete a sort of closer swap, with the money-conscious Oakland Athletics surprisingly taking on the more expensive of the two. Still, it’s their common status as Established Closers that Baltimore should be concerned with, as it could end up being something of a lateral move.
Having groomed Johnson himself after Kevin Gregg‘s 6.03 BB/9 in 2011 became untenable for the team’s success, the O’s should already know the dangers of going out and signing a ninth-inning guy to do the job. Perhaps they’re hoping to capitalize on a league-wide trend of teams starting to distance themselves from the Established Closer, but even so, the 35-year-old Balfour still not going to come cheap.
Will he require an eight-figure yearly salary similar to what Johnson is likely to get in arbitration? No. Will the O’s still have to spend eight figures over at least a couple of seasons to get him? Most likely.
Being that this is the Australian’s last realistic chance to get a multi-year deal, you can safely assume that he’ll push pretty hard for three years, even though the final term will likely lean towards two given the current climate for relief pitchers. However, would he be worth say, two years at $14-15 million?
If you were going by the numbers, it’s hard to see a team coming out on top at those figures. In fact, going strictly by his 2013 value, you could argue that even a deal at $10 million over two years isn’t likely going to yield positive value. At 0.6 fWAR at 2013 ($2.9 million worst of production), he was already arguably overpaid at $4.5 million this past season. After all, despite a 2.59 ERA over 62.2 innings and 38 handshakes earned, Balfour was far from what you’d call dominant.
Yes, he did post a double-digit K/9 at 10.34 and found some extra gas on his fastball (93.3 mph average, four-year high), but that comes with the cost of a four-year rising trend in walks, all the way up to a 3.88 BB/9 this past season.
His 1.20 WHIP was re result of a .263 BABIP that normalized back to career average levels, and with line-drive rates of 23 and 23.5 percent respectively over the last two seasons, you could start to see that the success he found as the A’s closer sits on elements that he can’t fully control.
A .201 BABIP helped him outperform his 3.83 xFIP in 2012, while a 84.4 percent strand rate (something that has fluctuated wildly through his career) saved his ERA from being closer to his 3.42 xFIP. Somehow, despite posting his worst line drive rates in years over the last two seasons, Balfour has managed to come out on top with some slight nudging from the baseball gods.
Oh, and we haven’t even talked about Oriole Park at Camden Yards’ 10th-ranked HR park factor compared to O.co Coliseum’s 25th, and that the righty isn’t much of a ground ball guy (0.88 GB/FB).
In short, aside from the fact that he gets strikeouts, there little to determine just how successful he’ll be going forward.
That’s something that almost all relievers have to live with given the small sample sizes of their work, but not every reliever is poised to make the money that Balfour is likely to this offseason either. While the 2/15 that was brought up earlier is perhaps a reasonable ending point, it would not be a stretch if he earned a 3/24 contract from an eager suitor.
Having just got out of a potential overpay situation, the Orioles just don’e need to be that team, that’s all.