Yankees get second shot at Balfour after deal with Orioles falls through

Yankees name Gary Tuck bullpen coach, announce three other hires
Heyman: Rangers agree to seven-year deal with Shin-Soo Choo
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Orioles agreed to a two-year contract worth $15M with right-hander Grant Balfour. He was slated to take over as their closer after the team dumped Jim Johnson and his projected $11M salary on the Athletics. It was a nifty series of moves and a very reasonable contract considering how well Balfour has pitched the last three or four seasons.

That deal has fallen apart, however. Orioles GM Dan Duquette confirmed to reporters yesterday that the contract agreement is off after the pre-signing physical revealed an issue with his right shoulder. It’s no surprise Baltimore walked away in that case. Balfour and his agent responded by insisting he is healthy, unsurprisingly. Here is the statement they released yesterday:

“Grant is completely healthy and that was told to us today by Dr. Koco Eaton, a well-respected club physician. Dr. Eaton’s opinion is based upon the fact that the MRI which was taken today is the same as the MRI which was taken in 2011 as a condition of the 3-year contract that Grant signed with the A’s. Dr. Tim Kremchek, another well-respected club physician, reviewed the Orioles’ medical report and advised that he is remarkably impressed that there has been little change in Grant’s arm for almost 10 years. Now factor into the equation that Grant was a 2013 All Star, pitched 65 games and another 3 scoreless innings in the post season with a 94-95 mph fastball. The only reasonable conclusion is that Grant is healthy and the Orioles at the last moment changed their minds.

“Grant is an ALL STAR CLOSER who has converted 55 of 58 save opportunities. Talent wins at the end of the day and if a club wants to win then they need Grant coming out of the pen in the 9th inning”

Eaton and Kremchek also spoke to Ken Rosenthal, if you’re looking for direct quotes from the two doctors. “I would say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that his shoulder would not be a problem going forward any more than it was a problem over the past three years, and there was no problem over the past three years,” said Eaton.

Balfour, who turns 36 in about a week, had both his labrum and rotator cuff surgically repaired way back in September 2005. He has been relatively healthy since then, only landing on the DL with oblique strains in 2010 and 2011. Balfour did have surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee back in February, but he was healthy for Opening Day and went on to have a strong season (2.59 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 62.2 innings).

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

The Yankees were said to have interest in Balfour weeks ago, just like they were said to have interest in a lot of players. I assume he was looking for a chance to close and New York hasn’t been offering that to anyone. All they’re offering is a closer competition in Spring Training, basically. It’s easy to understand why Balfour and Joe Nathan and other guys like that would gravitate to other clubs. Everyone wants that ninth inning.

Regardless of what his agent and the doctors say, Balfour’s stock took a big hit yesterday. The Yankees are still looking for late-inning bullpen help are there may now be an opportunity to swoop in and land Balfour at a discounted rate. Obviously they would have to perform their own physical and thoroughly check him out, but that goes for any team that signs him. The Mariners, Rockies, White Sox, Rays, Rangers, and Astros are all looking for closers and could represent competition.

What would be an appropriate contract? I don’t really know at this point. That shoulder complicates things. In a perfect world, Balfour would take an incentive-laden (based on days on the active roster?) one-year deal with a $3-4M base salary and a vesting option for 2015. If he hits all the incentives and triggers the option, the contract would be the worth the original two years and $15M he agreed to with the O’s. That is the perfect world contract, right? Balfour gets fairly compensated if he is as healthy as his agent suggests while the team gets some protection in case his shoulder explodes. Makes sense for both sides, at least in theory.

Balfour was a really good fit for the Yankees heading into the offseason, but, on the other hand, the Yankees were not a good fit for Balfour because he wanted to close. The failed physical and non-deal with the Orioles has changed his market considerably. Closing might be off the table completely now and his asking price — at least in terms of guaranteed money — figures to have come down. The two sides could be more compatible now and as long as the medicals check out (not a given, obviously), the Yankees would be wise to take advantage of this opportunity. Balfour has been really good the last few years and there’s a lot to like about adding a high-end reliever with a chip on his shoulder to the bullpen.

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  • ropeadope

    Balfour might now be more motivated to come to the AL East to stick it to the Orioles. If he believes in himself, a spring training closer competition with Robertson could be acceptable. Hope the Yankees and Balfour can come to terms.

    • qwerty

      Belief has little to do with it. He’s not going to rest his career on how he does during spring training.

      • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

        He’s already 36 so most of his career is behind him. I could see him agreeing to a competition if he’s really pissed at Baltimore.

        • RetroRob

          His career is ongoing, although I get your point.

          As I noted below, if the Yankees are the team that offers him the most money, I suspect he’ll sign, even if it’s for the 8th inning role. If his price is dropping because of the MRI, this is an opportunity to sign him as long as the team if comfortable with their medical exam.

  • DERP

    It would be fun to watch both McCann and Balfour simultaneously yell at opposing batters.

    I did see in today’s Baltimore Sun that there is a possibility that he can work something out with the Orioles. Would be hilarious if true.

  • Dars

    Get it done Cashman. If you are talking internal options for the rotation we will need a strong a bullpen as ever….

  • Tony Robbins

    He sounds motivated!

  • Dicka24

    If it’s at a discount, absolutely.

    • 42isNotMortal

      What does at a discount matter to you? Either way, 189 is dead with the next major signing and you have to figure the Yanks spend another 5-15 million in-season as well.

      That being said, I would have loved to see the Yankees snag him for 2/18 and would most certainly match the O’s pulled offer with multiple independent doctors stating there doesn’t appear to be an inherent risk beyond what’s he’s been pitching with since 05′.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        The team going over 189 does not mean they’re going to spend limitless money. What contract someone earns is still a matter of flexibility, especially if we’re talking years, which I admit we may not be here.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    My impression is that he REALLY wants to close just stemming from some of his comments after this fell through. I guess money would talk if the team really wanted him.

  • Dropped Third

    I’m not as concerned with the pen as most people. I think they still need to find one more guy with closer experience because robertson isn’t proven and for some reason it seems guys who pitch during the ninth inning are completely different pitchers. However, they have some depth and how many times have we seen cash pick a guy up on a minor league deal and turn him into 50 innings with a 3ish era? Plus we have a lot of arms in the minors that could potentially be pretty good relievers as early as next year.

    That being said, having D-Rob, Balfour, Thornton, and Kelly is a pretty good core to work around. Maybe they can get him at a reduced rate, maybe they’ll have to spend at the same rate as the O’s to get him on a set-up role.

  • Farewell Mo

    Yanks running out of quality options for bullpen at this point so Balfour would be a score.

    If it’s an issue, let him close and Robertson set up. Right now, the bullpen is a definite weakness that needs to be addressed and Balfour would be ideal.

  • OopsI Crapped My Pants

    For the love of pete, try and sign this guy. If the yankees are going to go with starting pitching on the cheap, at least beef up the pen with a proven arm. He’s been very consistant over the years,

    Pitching wins titles…..NY should know this better than anyone after having Rivera. Balfour is no Rivera but he could be had for a decent contract and he is better than anyone currently on the roster.

    Bottom line is he would make the Yankees better!!

  • CashmanNinja

    I wouldn’t mind Balfour at all. I’ve always liked him. He’s got the kind of mentality that would work well in New York. If we could get him for the right price then great. I wouldn’t hate D-Rob in that role either so I suppose that and the failed physical could lead to a slight discount if the Yanks want to use that as leverage.

  • Pacman

    Yes! Been waiting for you to post this story….get em cash! Would be a perfect fit!

  • mt

    Rays are suppsoedly in on this. Rays have the solid advantage here – Rays are Balfour’s former team who is also in AL East with better winning record than Yankees and can offer closer role with no competition (as opposed to a Yankee competition with Robertson).

    Also the Rays team doctor was used to comment in Balfour’s press release yesterday by saying Balfour’s shoulder has not deteriorated in three years by comparing today’s MRI versus three years ago. Rays doctor said it looks OK. I would think Balfour would jump on that and just sign with Rays (as opposed to now seeing whether the Yankee doctor agrees that his shoulder is still OK.).

    If I were Rays, getting Balfour to close as opposed to Rodney (last year’s version) would be an upgrade.

  • TWTR

    Another test of Hal Baseball’s willingness to spend.

    • I’m One

      Not entirely. Not sure Balfour would want to come in and possibly be set-up man to D-Rob. I wouldn’t want them to guarantee him the closer role. If he’s willing to take the chance and possibly be a set-up man, then fine, but don’t know what role or how many dollars the Yankees are willing to offer or if he’s willing to accept that he might not be a closer. 2-way street here.

      • http://twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

        wait…why aren’t you going to give Balfour the closer’s role?

        • CashmanNinja

          I agree. I realize D-Rob has been great in a setup role, but if you go out and get a closer via the free agent market, well…you make him the closer. That’s why Balfour had a 2 year/$15 mil deal on the table and not a deal for $3 mil a year. Plus at the end of the day Balfour is an All-Star closer and D-Rob isn’t. That’s not saying Robertson can’t ever be one, but Balfour is the proven commodity in that role as of now.

          • http://twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

            I’m confused. It sounds like you want them to give him the closer role. Didn’t you just say you “wouldn’t guarantee him the closer role”?

            • JCK

              Two different commenters…

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            You just exactly gave the argument for why Balfour’s not a good fit. The Yankees have not once said they’re in the market for a closer. They’re in the market for relief depth. Those are two very different things, and you’re not going to necessarily achieve relief depth through signing closers unless they’re desperate and you’re overpaying.

      • TWTR

        Then make an offer and see what happens.

  • http://twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    2 years, 12 million, no way he says no to that. I can’t imagine he’s anymore unhealthy that the normal wear and tear a pitcher has.

    This would set the bullpen. I think Robertson could close, but why mess with a good thing? Balfour in the 9th, Robertson in the 8th, Kelley/Claiborne/Thorton as your main pieces, solid.

  • Uh Dinnings

    One year $7.5M take it or leave it.

    Fuck his agent’s “the Orioles backed out” bullshit, what it is.

    ‘Reads to me like his client failed his physical and he’s trying to save face.

    Why would the Orioles lie and when have they ever pulled what he is claiming they have pulled in the past?

    What do they stand to gain by lying? They went from 93 wins in 2012 to 83 wins in 2013 and just traded Jim Johnson.

    • Kvothe

      Uh, his agent is disputing he failed the physical by presenting the medical opinions of other team doctors, who are saying that his client should have passed. He’s claiming the Orioles are using a “failed” physical as an excuse.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    The Yankees are stuck right now. Arod and Tanaka’s MLB futures are in limbo, until one of them gets resolved the Yankees probably don’t make a move.

    “PLAN 190 IS STILL IN PLAY” – a Steinbrenner Family quote

  • Uh Dinnings

    BTW I want the Yankees to get Trey Haley instead.

    • CashmanNinja

      I’d love for them to get Haley, but he wouldn’t be an 8th or 9th inning guy. The guy has no MLB experience and was extremely wild last year (nearly as many walks as K’s). The talent is there, but let’s not act like he can come in and help big time from day 1.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I’d be more than fine with him competing for a job in ST. Does he have options?

        • Mr. Roth

          Yes, I believe he does.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Then why isn’t he here yet? Cashman failed.

  • There’s the Door

    Something has to change about a system in which one subjective read of an MRI can potentially seriously harm a guy’s earning power.
    Maybe the medicals could be circulated at the start of free agency, and teams who didn’t like what they saw could quietly stay away.

    • Caballo Sin Nombre

      You write as if $15M grows on trees. That’s a serious amount of money, especially for two years’ work. If the guy can produce $15M of value, great; but if he can’t, it’s a lot of money to piss away. And if the MRI suggest there’s less chance of him producing that they originally thought, it’s time to rethink the contract.

  • CashmanNinja

    Choo to the Rangers for 7 years. I wonder how much different that was than the Yankees’ offer.

    • TheRealGreg

      If I’m hearing properly, Choo overall took 10 million LESS to go to Texas which equals one thing.

      State tax

    • YankNAZ

      Heard it had to do with taxes believe it or not!!

  • Need Pitching & Hitting

    I have a feeling the Yankees won’t sign anybody that puts them over the cap unless/until a significantly reduced suspension for ARod or signing Tanaka pushes them well past the cap.
    I suppose if they can get somebody to take some of Ichiro’s salary they might be able to squeeze Balfour in, but that would probably be a stretch.

    • There’s the Door

      Looks like that’s the plan. If there’s a plan.

    • Tom


      While Mike A has the latest # just bumping up to just under 189mil, it includes 6 or 7 mil in Jeter bonuses which are unlikely. That money could easily go to a scrap heap starter(if Tanaka is not posted) and a middling reliever. They could fill the last IF spot with a Nix or a Nunez on the cheap as well.

      If they are able to dump any of Ichiro’s salary at some point, that might be enough to fund DL callups (which I don’t think Mike A factored into his calculations) or minor pickups on the waiver wire.

      I think it’s a terrible idea to do this, but I think folks are too quick to view plan 189 as out the window.

  • I’m a looser and a trader baby so why don’t you kill me?

    This has Cashman failed written all over it!

    We sign him to say 2/12 or 1/7.5 and he blows out his shoulder.
    We don’t him him and he’s an all star next year.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      They need an additional reliever, I believe, to provide a safety net in the later innings. It doesn’t have to be someone who was closing games last year. There’s still pitchers out there who can do this.

      If this MRI deal cuts Balfour’s value, then great.

  • http://Yahoo Oliver Jackson

    Grant Balfour is a must sign pure and simple. Why do the Yankees executives move so slowly when these opportunities arise? When it comes to decision making it surely seems that quickness and decisiveness are not strong points. Very unfortunate.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      …..because they never said they wanted to sign a fucking closer?

    • JGYank

      They’ve been moving quickly all offseason. They didn’t even wait for guys like Choo and they went ahead and signed Ellsbury and Beltran right after Cano left. The only things slowing them down are the Arod decision and the potential Tanaka posting. They pounced on McCann as well. They probably didn’t make the pen a priority with all the holes in the lineup and have already made three major signings and several re-signings.

  • JGYank

    The Os didn’t even try to sign him at a discount. This scares me. What did they see in his shoulder? He’s a good pitcher but he seems like a big risk. I would sign him if he came cheap but who knows how this affects what teams are willing to pay.

  • RetroRob

    I view this a little differently. The $15M deal over two years is a solid price for a set-up man who can also close. The Yankees need a player like that. Here’s the 8th inning, an you might be the 9th inning, Mr. Balfour.

    But Balfour wants to close, yet all teams are going to try to get him even cheaper now, and that includes teams that need a closer, which puts the Yankees at the same disadvantage they had before. The Yankees advantage is they can basically match the Orioles original number (assuming they are comfortable with the medicals). They should do it.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Thank you, sir.

  • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

    Balfour is unlikely to come without a guarantee as closer – which he’s not getting.

    The $3-4M with vesting option will be available from a lot of teams that WILL offer him the closer’s role.

    The Yanks probably could convince him if they offered the original 2/15 that Baltimore offered with a understanding that there will be a competition for closer in ST (“wink-wink).

  • BMcP

    Yes – Grant gets very, very upset when he’s even temporarily taken out of the closer role.

  • Tom

    Why is it some sort of birthright that Robertson close?

    The guys has excelled in the the 8th inning/fireman role and might actually be more productive in that role. He can be brought in with men on base when needing a K and will be brought into a tie game or 1 run down; unlike the Girardi closer rules(TM), where he would be saved for a lead. I’m not saying he can’t close – but why not use your best reliever for more innings and in potentially a more significant role?

    Do folks have Robertson on their fantasy teams and need saves? He probably adds more value to the team pitching the 8th inning, yet for some reason everyone wants him to close.

    I want the Yankees to bring Balfour (I would have preferred Benoit), not because he’s necessarily the better pitcher, but so they can get a guy to pitch clean innings (noone on, lead), and leave Robertson where he is.

    • Deep Thoughts

      Hear hear.

      From a performance perspective, his Houdini routine isn’t efficient enough for someone who might have to save games 3 nights out of 4. One of Mo’s greatest talents was throwing strikes, inducing weak contact, and getting 3 outs from 11-14 pitches.

      Secondly, what good is team control if you don’t leverage it? D-Rob will get his payday but there is no reason the Yankees can’t reasonably make him go through arbitration as a middle reliever. All the more reason to sign a deal buying out his remaining arb and early free agency years.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        Couldn’t disagree more here.

        All we need to do is remember Mo’s predecessor in order to realize that guys who who tend towards inefficiency with pitch count can still be excellent closers.

        Also, isn’t Robertson a FA next season? You’re suggesting the team keep him as a middle reliever in order to make him cheaper next season, THEN try to extend him? Who is going to buy that?

        If you keep Robertson out of the ninth next season, someone else is going to pay him to pitch it after 2014. There aren’t going to be extensions. There’s going to be him striking your guys out while wearing another uniform.

        • Tom

          Someone is going to pay him to pitch regardless of what he inning he has this year. Boone Logan just got paid 5 mil per over 3 years and is making not much less than “proven closers”.

          This contrivance that the Yankees have a closer and are at a disadvantage signing some of these guys is a rationalization for if/when the Yankees don’t go after some of them. The Yankees have a guy who CAN close, not a guy who HAS to close and should block the Yankees from adding a quality arm.

          The Yankees going into the offseason had a starting CF’r… didn’t seem to stop them from paying 153mil for another CF’r. You think Gardner prefers LF over CF? How is this any different?

  • RobC

    Something is not right with this situation.
    Baltimore did not expect his MRI to be normal did they?

    • RetroRob

      …and it also depends on what “normal” means. All indications are that his MRI was normal for a pitcher his age and there were no changes from scans three years ago.

      It’s the Orioles. It’s Peter Angelos.