A’s Land the Other Tampa Bay Reliever

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:

2008 0.46 87.9% .233 1.54 2.22
2009 0.80 65.4% .305 4.81 3.77
2010 0.49 78.8% .286 2.28 2.68

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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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

23 Responses to “A’s Land the Other Tampa Bay Reliever”

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  1. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Gonna be tough to come back on them this year, especially in that park.

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  2. DonCoburleone says:

    Man so is anyone keeping tabs on the number of draft picks the Rays are going to have in this draft? I mean Crawford, Pena, Soriano, Benoit and Balfour all get them picks right? If anyone can clear this up for me (as in “the ray’s will have X number of picks in the top 80”) I’d appreciate it.

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      • DonCoburleone says:

        Wow thats impressive especially considering all the talk that this is the deepest draft in like 10 years.. Friedman really is the true genius GM in baseball right now – Billy Beane couldn’t hold his jock strap.

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      • Kev says:

        Yeah, if only Billy Beane were a genius too, he could have let some of the A’s zero good free agents walk and collected the draft picks.

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      • Paul Thomas says:

        God, what an idiotic system this is. Let’s give the team with the best record in baseball far more draft value than any other franchise (with the possible exception of the Pirates)!

        … okay.

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      • bSpittle says:

        One of your responders is ridiculous.

        Friedman became GM 3 years ago.
        He inherited the rays.

        Granted, I like some of his trades, but you have to give a lot more credit to those drafts (years of number 1 picks) before he was GM.

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      • basted says:

        bSpittle, Friedman became GM in 2005 not “3 years ago.” Before that he was Director of Baseball Development, a title that implies some sway over the draft.

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  3. Rickey says:

    does it appear the pen may be getting a little overloaded? they’ll need to find time for a lot of pitchers to get work in now it seems.
    Bailey, Balfour, Blevins, Breslow, Wuertz, Ziegler (that’s six); not to mention the loser of the fifth starter spot between Harden, McCarthy, Ross (though Ross still has options, so that’s seven at least); plus the returns of Devine and Outman (that makes at least nine). So they have roughly 9 guys (doesn’t include possibility if resigning Duchscherer) in their pen who throw quality stuff.
    Looking at projected FIPs for these pitchers: 4.10, 3.73, 3.63, 3.41, 3.40, 3.30, 2.97 and here’s the last available FIPs for the pen pitchers who don’t have a projection: 2.79, 1.93.
    Those are some stellar numbers with lots of depth, which should field a strong defense behind them, pitching in a pitcher friendly park.

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    • Wally says:

      Well, you should probably figure at least 2-3 of those 9 are hurt at any one time. Plus, the rotation has a lot of players with injury risks. I wonder if the loaded pen is there assuming fairly short leashes on 2-3 of their starters, meaning a lot of 4 inning games for the bullpen.

      The A’s, maybe more than any other team now, would seem to be very well set up to institute a “no four times through the order” rule, with the exception of maybe Anderson.

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  4. Wally says:

    $4M/year is pretty inconsequential, even for the A’s. It seems to me, that despite their tag as a small payroll team, the A’s often have a far amount of money to spend on these kinds of B or C level signings. Meaning, Beane is given a certain yearly budget, I’m sure he and the owners wish him to spend at least most of it as best he can, and while he can’t sign the big guys, you might as well through a little money round on the fringes. And with the A’s being set with low cost players in most positions, you might as well get a pretty damn good reliever for a fairly small price.

    Also, something we tend to over look, is that from a WAR stand point the difference between a good reliever and a bad one might be fairly small (just 1 or 2 WAR, but from a WPA stand point, a good reliever could be 3-4 games better than a poor one. So if you set your team up to with a ton of good relievers, insulating yourself from giving the ball to poor pitchers in high leverage situations, it could be seen as a low cost to win ratio move.

    This combined with defense I believe is the new “moneyball” strategy over in Oakland.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      A’s had a ton of money coming off the books, right?
      vr, Xei

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      • Wally says:

        Quite right, with Chavez and Sheets becoming FAs. Obviously some of that $$$ gets taken up by the young guys getting raises, but it should still leave some $15M to play with at least.

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      • hk says:

        With Chavez and Sheets coming off, DeJesus, Willingham, Matsui, Balfour, Harden and McCarthy being added and the raises to the young guys, it looks like they’ll again spend in the $58M to $62M range.

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  5. Resolution says:

    Where is Joey Devine nowadays?

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    • Aaron C. says:

      Still recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to back on the mound at some point in 2011, but everything I’ve read points to him starting the season on the DL.

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  6. MC says:

    It seems like there’s some kind of mass delusion or mass hysteria in MLB w/ relievers now getting more than star players got 10 years ago.

    Talk about gap between rich and poor.

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    • hk says:

      In 2001, ARod made $21M and Manny Ramirez made $20M. Not even Mariano, the best reliever in history on the richest team in MLB, is making in 2011 as much as the stars made in 2001. Therefore, your claim is wrong. However, even if it was right, I’m not sure why it would show mass delusion or mass hysteria. I’m also not sure how the A’s signing Balfour leads to you concluding anything about a gap between rich and poor.

      For what it is worth, baseball salary appreciation has actually slowed over the past decade. The average MLB salary was $3.3M in 2010, $1.9M in 2000, $597k in 1990 and $143k in 1980. Therefore, it is possible, if not probable, that relievers in 2000 made more than the stars of 1990.

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      • MC says:

        OK maybe “10 years” was hyperbole.

        A-Rod/Manny were probably the highest paid players in 2001. Mike Piazza was making something like $16M in 2005, according to Wikipedia. That’s now par for the course for a closer. Benoit is getting $7M per year. OK maybe not 10 years but in 1995 or so that was probably the amount that stars made. Indeed, in 1995 the highest paid player in baseball was Albert Belle, who was paid just under $10M. This was only 15 years ago.

        Since 2000, the salary of the highest paid player has more than doubled from $15M and “change” for Kevin Brown to $33M per year for ARod. More telling, 20 years ago the highest paid player was Rickey Henderson at $3M per year. That is a 10-fold increase over 20 years. It is really unheard of for a normal private sector employee’s salary to have risen by a figure of 10 in the last 20 years (unless you’re a CEO, which maybe you are, considering that you appear to be willfully blind to instances of staggering increases in salaries).

        In fact I think baseball salaries have grown exponentially and appear to continue to do so, despite the depression in which most American find themselves. If you don’t agree that there’s a seriously large and widening gap between MLB salaries and normal private sector pay, you must have some very strongly tinted rose colored glasses on about what it’s like in the real (i.e. outside the MLB) world.

        Yes I think it is delusional to give relievers multi-year salaries in the multiple millions of dollars. Even the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth to what seems to be a grossly overpriced contract. Relievers are often failed starters after all – those can’t be that rare.

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  7. PL says:

    Anderson-Cahill-Gonzalez-Braden are the front 4

    Harden-McCarthy-Outman-Cramer-Mortensen-Ross are all vying for the 5th SP/long reliever spot.

    Bailey-Balfour-Breslow-Wuertz-Ziegler are the heart of the pen

    Blevins-Devine-DeLosSantos-loser of the 5th SP battle make up the last 2 spots in spring training.

    Thats a deep, deeeeeep pitching staff. Seven of the above listed are not going to make this team. Wow.

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  8. PL says:

    *Six, not seven. Apologies.

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  9. DickAlmighty says:

    Best move Billy Beane could make to close out his active offseason would be to can that waste of space Bob Geren and hire a manager with half-a-clue to use all of these assets Beane has accumulated on the A’s roster.

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