The Sox need bullpen help and I’m sure they will be exploring all avenues and options to improve things in 2011. There are some unique opportunities out there as well as the standard free agent options. One of those options has pitched in the AL East for the past three seasons and has put up some solid numbers when healthy. That reliever is Grant Balfour.
Balfour does a good job of striking hitters out. He struck out over nine per nine innings this past season and has a career 10.23 K/9. His walk rate has been a problem in the past, but a 2.77 BB/9 in 2010 was a big improvement. Despite a high fly ball rate, Balfour did a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark in 2010 allowing only three over 55.1 innings. He has an intense demeanor on the mound and is a big-time competitor. Having pitched in the AL East for the past three seasons, Balfour is used to the tough competition within the division.
If he pitches like he did in 2010, he has the upside to be a solid seventh inning set-up man before Bard and Papelbon.
Balfour’s career has been anything but consistent. Two of his last three seasons have been dominant, but in 2009 his command got away from him and led to more hard hit balls and six home runs over 67.1 innings. His walk rate in 2010 was the lowest of his career (his career BB/9 is 4.34) and there is no guarantee that at age 33 he just simply figured things out. A regression in walks would seem likely, which would hurt his chances of putting together a season as good as his 2010.
A high fly ball rate can be risky at Fenway Park and Balfour has a tendency to leave the ball up in the zone too often. Both factors could lead to more doubles and home runs against and over the green monster.
It’s hard to try and get inside the head of any player, but I have a feeling that money and or security will be the two main factors in Balfour’s decision. The Rays plan on drastically reducing payroll in 2011, so they may not want to spend the few million he’ll be asking for. Though save totals are an overvalued stat when it comes to a player’s worth, most players seem to turn them into cash. Balfour has had closer “stuff” in the past, but he only has eight career saves to his name. My guess would be that his agent starts out seeking a 2-3 year deal worth roughly $3-4M per season. However, there is a growing amount of front offices learning not to overpay in terms of years for relievers, so Balfour may indeed end up signing a one-year deal in the around $3M.
At one-year $3M, Balfour’s upside may be worth the risk of his downside. A multi-year deal would be a bit more risky given his age and inconsistent past.
I’m sure that Grant Balfour will be one of the free agent relievers that the Sox take a look at this offseason and I’m sure they will approach negotiations with caution and limits in mind.