Tampa Bay Rays Overpay For "Proven Closer" Grant Balfour

By Zach Morrison
Grant Balfour
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have become known for making great bullpens while allocating very little money to it. In the past nine seasons, the Rays have had eight different saves leaders: Danyz Baez, Tyler Walker, Al Reyes, Troy Percival, J.P. Howell, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth and Fernando Rodney. Rodney was the Rays’ closer for the past two seasons, 2012 and 2013. Most, if not all, of the past nine seasons have seen the Rays use cheap options at closer, but it appears the next two seasons will be different.

For some reason, the Rays have signed Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12 million deal according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Baltimore Orioles had a deal in place with Balfour a few weeks ago, but the deal fell apart when the Orioles didn’t like what they saw during his physical.

This just doesn’t make any sense. The Rays don’t do things like this; small market teams can’t afford to waste significant dollars on “proven closers.” The proven closer is a false idea, and the Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates have shown this. With the Rays we have nine years of evidence; with the Pirates we have seen them have great success in recent seasons with Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli being given the closer job despite not having previous ninth inning experience.

Balfour, 36, is undeniably a decent pitcher. With the Oakland Athletics in 2013, Balfour pitched to a 2.59 ERA with a 3.49 FIP with 10.34 K/9. His 3.88 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, relatively low .263 BABIP against him, 37.9 ground ball percentage and unsustainably high 84.4 left-on-base percentage suggest that he won’t have a 2.59 ERA in 2014. Adding another year to his body certainly won’t help either. His peripheral numbers and his age suggest that the Rays may have made a bad move here, and they usually don’t do bad things.

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