Every year, it seems, there is a reliever whose market is hampered by the Type A free agency tag. In the 2008-2009 off-season it was Juan Cruz. Last year it was Rafael Betancourt. This year it was Grant Balfour. Signing relievers to multi-year deals is a dicey proposition to begin with, and draft-pick compensation just amplifies the cost. The risk and the cost weren’t too great for the A’s, though, as they signed Balfour to a two-year, $8.1 million deal this morning.
As we see with many relievers, Balfour’s production has fluctuated from year to year. Here’s a quick chart of his home-run rate, LOB%, and BABIP over the last three seasons:
The low FIP is certainly a calming factor, as is his consistently below-league-average HR/FB ratio. But even though he’s had outstanding seasons in two out of the last three years, he clearly has a stinker in him. The A’s are betting a considerable amount that he won’t have one in 2010 or 2011.
If there is one area of concern with Balfour it’s his declining velocity. After spending most of 2008 around 94 mph, he dropped at the beginning of the 2009 season, and then he dipped a bit more in 2010. According to PitchFX, which isn’t perfect in these matters, he has lost about 2 mph on his fastball since 2008. He showed in 2010 that he can succeed around 92-93, so, as long as the downward trend doesn’t continue, he should be fine in that regard. But it’s never a good thing to see a chart such as this:
In Balfour the A’s have acquired another cog in an already strong bullpen. He’ll join Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, Michael Wuertz, and Jerry Blevins in setting up Andrew Bailey. Having this many setup men provides the A’s with some depth, in case someone gets hurt or ends up having a poor season. Paying one of those guys — and not the best among them — $4 million per season is a steep cost, but it’s one the A’s are apparently willing to pay in their quest to steal the AL West crown in 2011.
Wins have come at a premium this offseason, and if we’re using $5 million per win as a measure, this deal works out well enough for the A’s. It’s almost exactly what the Yankees paid Pedro Feliciano, and of the two I’d rather have Balfour. They lose only a second round pick, which will probably be between Nos. 75 and 80 when everything settles. At the same time, they’ve added depth to a strong bullpen that can capably relieve a strong rotation. The A’s have definitely set themselves up well in competition with the Lee-less Raners and listless Angels.
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