Free Agent Pass or Play: Grant Balfour – Phillies Nation

Free Agent Pass or Play: Grant Balfour day until free agency begins, we at Phillies Nation will take a look at a player who will become a free agent five days after the World Series’ conclusion. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. We continue today with right-handed reliever Grant Balfour. And a reminder: you can check out all the “Pass or Play” posts by clicking on the category hyperlink above.


Since 2008, Balfour has been a force to be reckoned with out of the bullpen. Balfour posted a 2.74 ERA in that span and since 2010, his ERA has been an even lower 2.47, good enough for tenth in the American League in that time among relievers. Balfour was a late bloomer, becoming a full-time Major Leaguer for the first time in 2008 at age 30 with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Aussie has pitched well since and has served as the A’s closer for each of the last three seasons on a three-year, $12.25 million contract. That contract now looks like a bargain – FanGraphs, though, puts the contract as an almost perfect fit, calculating Balfour’s value for 2011-2013 at $12.1 million.

Balfour gets hitters out with a fastball/curveball/slider/change-up repitoire, sitting between 93-94 MPH with his fastball. During his time in Oakland, Balfour has obtained better control of his curveball, leading to further success. The caution with Balfour comes with his propensity to allow home runs (0.8 HR/9 IP in his career), his propensity to walk hitters (3.9 BB/9 IP), his fortune of pitching in pitcher-friendly parks (Oakland was once again the toughest park to score runs in in 2013), and his fortune of having a solid defense around him (Oakland ranked seventh in UZR/150 from 2010-2013 and Balfour’s ERA was 0.90 points lower than his FIP in 2013).


The Phillies are obviously looking to upgrade a bullpen that ranked 14th out of 15 NL teams in 2013 in ERA, FIP, and xFIP. The Phillies were ranked dead last in BB/9 IP and were ranked 14th of 15 NL teams in batting average against. It’s no secret that they need help with the only locks for the 2014 bullpen likely being Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, and Jake Diekman. Balfour did surrender homers at a 11.1% clip in 2013 in a pitcher’s ballpark and those numbers would likely inflate greatly should he pitch in Citizen’s Bank Park regularly. It would be a pretty big jump to go from 2013’s 25th easiest park to hit a homer in to 2013’s easiest park to hit a homer in and, at age 36, I don’t think Balfour could navigate that jump successfully.


According to the awesome FanGraphs crowd-sourcing project, Balfour is likely in line for somewhere between $5.5-8 million per year for two years.


The Phillies shouldn’t spend $5.5-8 million on a 36-year old reliever, especially when they have a $15 million/year closer but could afford Balfour if they really wanted him.

Verdict: Easy Pass

Balfour’s recent successes were helped in large part by a solid Athletics defense and a park that is one of the best in the Majors at suppressing homers. At 36, Balfour will likely be between an average and above average reliever in 2014 and the Phillies have plenty of those at the league minimum available at Lehigh Valley.



  1. Cs

    October 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Didn’t realize he’d have such a HR issue. We need a vet, but I guess it’s not him. Hope to see your thoughtskn the 1-2 korean pitchers that may be posted.

  2. Lefty

    October 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I’d say pass. However- I would not be a bit surprised to see the Phils pursue him.

    Ian- isn’t Adams signed for next season too? Or do you mean he’s not a lock because of his injury problems?

  3. Pingback: And so it continues! – Free Agent Pass or Play: Grant Balfour « The AustralianBaseballDigest

  4. CS

    October 25, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    There has been no news or time table I saw for Adams. Basically I’d plan a BP around not having him.

  5. bacardipr

    October 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    They should take a look at him. Though his age worries me some. Especially for Rubes propensity to give multi year deals. I to think Rube should plan a BP figuring Adams will be out for a good part or be ineffective. That would be the wise thing for our GM to do.

  6. DavidE

    October 25, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Pass. He is up there in years so he is almost certain to decline. The question is how fast and how much. There are probably better bargains out there. The Red Sox have Hanrahan. Obviously, Uehara is the closer for next year. So probably Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey could be on the trading block.

  7. Hogey's Role

    October 25, 2013 at 10:39 pm


  8. George

    October 25, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    I seriously doubt the idea that the Phils have plenty of average or above average relievers at AAA. Just watching most of the garbage that came up from there this season would make me willing to try independant leagues and maybe even little leagues.

    Balfour might not be the ultimate guy, but he’s certainly someone to look at besides the Aumonts and Ramirezes (who, by the way, had far worse BB/9 ratios than Balfour) they’ve given chances to. Sometimes it takes more than league minimum to get someone who can actually get a few guys out.

    Of course, Balfour will probably be way too expensive because he does have a pretty decent track record.

  9. bacardipr

    October 25, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Something tells me the moment the Phils ink him the decline/injuries will start.

  10. hk

    October 26, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Assuming that the Phils don’t want to exceed the luxury tax limit, it would seem to be a poor use of their resources to pay a guy who is coming off a 2-year stint as a closer to be a set up guy. For that matter, I think the Phils will be better off spending ~$3M on a reliever (Joe Smith from Cleveland?), saving the rest of their budget to spend elsewhere and going with a bullpen of the veteran reliever plus Papelbon, Bastardo, Diekman, Rosenberg and Martin (plus Adams if he ever gets healthy).

  11. Ryne Duren

    October 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Too old he’ll decline in performance. We don’t need a guy like that I’d PASS. Of though Rube likes to sign guys buy looking at the back of their BB cards. He thinks a lot of these guys will find their groove here. Hasn’t happened aint gonna happen. He got one good year out of Ibanez. then two crappy ones. Yea he had a good year with the Yanks and one with the Mariners. big deal all that means is 3 out of the last 5 years he did ok. Balfour? PASS

  12. Ken Bland

    October 26, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    This is not like Raul, or Papelbon where you see a target and go fpr it early in the free agency game. But it is a guy you watch and see how his free agency plays out, how Adams progresses, and see how funds work in terms of an increase through this supposed TV bonanza.

    At the open, too many other prioritiest o focus on to simplify it to pass or play. You just don’t automatically pass for the time being.

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