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A case for Grant Balfour

Grant Balfour might be just the arm Seattle is looking for, at the right price none the less.


With a number of top talents on the free-agent market this off-season, forecasting the most dramatic stateside pursuit would belong to Grant Balfour seemed silly. But you would've been correct. In late December the Baltimore Orioles negated their 2 years, $15 million dollar agreement with the former Oakland Athletics closer. Unlike the situation faced Boston Red Sox catcher Mike Napoli this past season – in which the original offer sheet was voided and later replaced under new terms -- Baltimore has seemingly removed themselves from talks with Balfour altogether.

While the extent of Baltimore’s reservations or relation to rotator cuff surgery Balfour underwent during the 2005 season was not released, it's cited the state of the veteran's right (throwing) shoulder was called into question during medicals.

Aside from the 'red flag' raised by the Orioles organization, there has been no indication -- on or off the field -- that the All-Star reliever has operated at less than one-hundred percent. Dating to the 2008 season, the 36 year-old has displayed unparalleled versatility at the Major League level. In tallying the fifth lowest bullpen ERA at 2.74 (min. 350 IP), Balfour has emerged as the lone pitcher to total 70 holds and 70 saves. In addition, operating in stellar form over his career versus current American League West rosters outside Seattle, take a look:

Angels 71 63 10 0 0 2 7 8 23
Astros 27 24 6 1 0 1 2 3 8
Athletics 50 43 8 3 1 0 1 7 14
Rangers 78 71 11 1 0 1 6 6 19
Totals 226 201 35 5 1 4 16 24 64
AVG 0.174 OBP 0.261 SLG 0.268 OPS 0.529 K/BB 2.67

In support of Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays Orthopedic Team Physician Koco Eaton released a statement upon re-evaluation of the right-handed reliever, stating, "The MRI that I did on him today looked exactly the same as the MRI I did three years ago." Eaton continued, "there are abnormalities on the MRI as there are on every single baseball player's. But three years ago, there was no issue, and he had pretty good performances when he was with Oakland."

"The MRI that I did on him today looked exactly the same as the MRI I did three years ago." -Tampa Bay Rays Orthopedic Team Physician Koco Eaton on Grant Balfour's recent medicals.
A fair shake at 2 years, $15 million the former All-Star will almost surely be looking at a smaller payout moving through the off-season. What does this mean for suitors? The opportunity to acquire veteran closer experience without the price tag that often accompanies. Not faced with direct need to close ball games, Balfour could be stashed as a middle reliever, an acquisition to bulk up a recently under-performing bullpen corps.

The loss of Carter Capps -- dealt to Miami -- and likely departure of Oliver Perez on this free-agent market only further thins a bullpen that struggled this past season. Seattle has a need to control the base-paths -- not only in getting on, but additionally in keeping the competition off -- which was not achieved last season, as relievers ranked 29th across Major League Baseball in IS (inherited runners scored) with 90.

Losing Capps and Perez is significant in that the Mariners – at this time -- do not return their top-3 K/BB performers from last season outside first-year arm Danny Farquhar. Similar to the ratio posted versus current American League West rosters (see table), Balfour carries the eighth highest bullpen mark (min. 350 IP) at 2.75, dating to 2008. The highest mark that remains on today's market, nine spots ahead of former Detroit Tigers closer Fernando Rodney at 1.88 over the same period.

With the knowledge that an acquired reliever will be delivering behind a new-look, but unproven offense, Seattle could use an arm 'that's been there'. Not to mention the World Series, Balfour threw behind an offensive swing in Oakland circa 2011-12 -- similar to what the Mariners hope to have implemented -- and excelled. With the inability to forecast a repeat performance for rookie Danny Farquhar and a thorough medical exam (or two), Balfour may be just the arm Seattle doesn't know they are looking for.