Each 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.