Archive for Grant Balfour
We are now less than three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting for duty in Tampa, meaning it’s looking less and less likely that Brian Cashman & Co. will pull a major move out of their sleeve this offseason. The Yankees still need a starting catcher (not happening), a DH (will probably happen), bench help (almost certainly will happen), and various depth pieces (will happen) before the start of the season, so the shopping list isn’t small. Since it’s unlikely each of those holes will be filled before the season, let’s look ahead at some players who might be available at the trade deadline.
Now, looking ahead seven months and trying to figure which teams will be in it and who be available is very, very tricky business. At this time last year I was touting Andre Ethier as a potential deadline DH target, yet by time late-July rolled around he had signed a new extension and the Dodgers were suddenly owned by free-spending billionaires. There are surprise contenders and surprise extensions every summer, which throws a wrench into the trade market. Since we like talking about possible trades though, here are a few players in their walk years — I’m assuming the Yankees won’t want to take on any multi-year contracts given the 2014 payroll plan — on projected non/maybe-contenders who might be available at midseason.
The Athletics surprised everyone last season with their late surge to the AL West crown, but you don’t have to try real hard to envision a scenario in which they’re out of the race and far behind the Angels and Rangers come the deadline. Oakland had a ton of walk-off wins and nearly all of their rookie arms worked out last year, neither of which I would count on happening again. The Yankees have had some interest in Balfour before, and the 35-year-old right-hander would be an obvious target if things go wrong in the bullpen and another late-game arm is needed.
Matt Garza & Ricky Nolasco
The Yankees have plenty of pitching depth at the moment, but we know how this stuff goes. It has a way of disappearing quickly. CC Sabathia is coming off elbow surgery, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are up their in age, Phil Hughes seems to perpetually walk the tightrope, and no one really knows what to expect out of Ivan Nova and David Phelps. Since Adam Warren and Brett Marshall are the next-in-line guys in Triple-A, a veteran starter could easily be on the trade deadline agenda. The Cubs and Marlins aren’t going anywhere and they’ve already been shopping Garza and Nolasco, respectively, so it’s a safe bet both guys will be moved at some point before the end of July. Garza, 29, has AL East experience while the 30-year-old Nolasco is more of a break glass in case of emergency option. The Yankees have had interest in both in the not-too-distant past.
Hart, 30, was supposed to have knee surgery yesterday, but he pushed the procedure back so he could get a second opinion. He was expected to miss three or four months once he had the operation. Hart is basically another Mike Morse, except he hits for a slightly lower average and makes up the on-base numbers with walks. He hits for power from the right side and can play either corner outfield spot in addition to first base. DH is always an option as well. The Brewers overhauled their league-worst bullpen from a year ago but didn’t add any starting pitching, so contending in the tough (but winnable!) NL Central will be a chore. For what it’s worth, Brewers GM Doug Melvin was non-committal when asked about signing Hart to an extension a few weeks ago.
This one might be coming out of left field, but I think there’s potential here. Helton, 39, fits the Ichiro Suzuki/Lance Berkman mold of a former great who has been toiling on a non-contender for years and could request a trade in hopes of one last shot at a World Championship. He’s battled knee, hip, and back injuries in recent years but still provides value at the plate because he’s very disciplined (13.8 BB% in 2012, 14.4% career) and he doesn’t strike out much (15.5 K% in 2012, 12.1% career). Yes, the guy has been in the big leagues since 1997 and he still has more unintentional walks (1,111) than strikeouts (1,088) to his name. His power (.164 ISO last two years) is mostly the product of Coors Field — Yankee Stadium is a pretty good place to hit as well — and he will need a platoon partner. Helton has already hinted at retiring after the season, and if the Yankees need a left-handed hitter for their DH spot come July, and I bet his name pops up in rumors. He fits the good clubhouse presence, veteran change of scenery guy mold perfectly.
Ruiz, 34, has to serve a 25-game amphetamines-related suspension to open the season, but he’ll still have about three months before the deadline to prove last season’s 151 wRC+ wasn’t a fluke. I don’t expect him to ever hit like that again, but he’s been an above-average hitter over the last four seasons because he takes walks (career 10.4 BB%) and doesn’t strike out (career 11.1 K%). He’ll probably go back to hitting single-digit homers again, but that’s fine given his batting average and on-base ability. Chooch has consistently ranked in the top-six of the various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) and he’s thrown out base-stealers at a league average rate or better throughout his career. If the Phillies skid to the finish and make Ruiz available at the deadline, he’d be the perfect rental for New York even if he doesn’t repeat 2012 and reverts back to his 2008-2010 form.
Got four questions for you this week, and remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us future mailbag questions.
Mark asks: I know the Yankees have liked him in the past, since Oakland appears to be in sell mode – how does Grant Balfour look as Joba Chamberlain insurance?
Balfour, 34 had a rough start to the season but has settled down and pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.74 FIP) overall. He’s making $4M this season with a $4.25M club option for next season ($350k buyout), so he’s a rental. There are three big red flags here. One, his strikeout rate (6.70 K/9 and 18.8 K%) is way down compared to the last few years (8.82 K/9 and 24.8 K% from ’10-’11). Two, his walk rate (3.77 BB/9 and 10.6 BB%) is way up (2.84 K/9 and 8.0 BB% from ’10-’11), and three, his fastball velocity is down into the low-90s and has been trending the wrong way for a few years now. That’s like the red flag trifecta right there.
Brian Cashman tried to work out a sign-and-trade deal for Balfour last offseason, before ownership stepped in and signed Rafael Soriano. I’m not sure if they still like him given this year’s decline, but the price shouldn’t be high at all. The Athletics could save some cash and get maybe a Grade-C prospect in return as part of a trade, which is better than holding on to him for another two months and losing him for nothing after the season. Balfour has AL East experience and that’s always nice, but that won’t save him if the fastball and ability to miss bats is gone. If the Yankees can get him real cheap, sure try him out. Low risk move. I wouldn’t expect a ton out of him, however.
Travis asks: Considering the depth of pitching the Yankees have, do you see them making a big free agent signing? They have CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Phelps already in the rotation next year and in AAA, they will have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Vidal Nuno, Mikey O’Brien, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. That’s a lot of fourth and fifth starters (and some second and third) in the minors. Hard to see giving multiple years to pitchers this year and coming years.
That’s the problem, the vast majority of those minor league guys you mentioned are back-end starters. You don’t really make room for those guys, especially if you’re the Yankees. You let them come up and fill-in if someone gets hurt and you need a spot starter. I mean, if the choice is adding a Cole Hamels or leaving a spot open for someone like Brett Marshall … that seems like an easy call to me.
That said, the 2014 payroll plan is going to impact the team’s free agent decisions more than anything. They’ll need a few of those guys for depth reasons but I wouldn’t let them stand in the way of adding an impact arm. Heck, I wouldn’t let them stand in the way of re-signing Hiroki Kuroda. We’ve written this before, but the Yankees can add a guy like Hamels on a huge contract and still get under the luxury tax threshold in a few years, but it will take some serious creativity. Perhaps it involves dealing a few of those arms for a cheap outfielder or two as a way to offset the cost. I love prospects as much as anyone, but the Yankees don’t have anyone in their system right now that you can point to as a surefire impact pitcher.
Nick asks: So I know there is speculation about a Justin Upton trade. You had mentioned that to get him you would open up the farm system for him. Is there anyway the Yankees can get him AND hold onto Mason Williams or Gary Sanchez? If so, who would you prefer to keep?
I suppose there’s a way to do it, I just don’t know how they could. The Yankees and Diamondbacks don’t matchup well in a trade because Arizona has a ton of pitching and needs a third baseman and a shortstop. Maybe they really, really like Brandon Laird and Eduardo Nunez, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I can’t imagine a lower level guy like Dante Bichette Jr. would work; if you’re trading a franchise-type player like Upton, you can’t accept A-ballers in return, especially if you’re as close to contending as the D’Backs are.
As far as Williams and Sanchez, I’d prefer to keep Mason but honestly I wouldn’t let either guy stand in the way of a potential trade. Williams has a much more well-rounded game and while Sanchez has serious impact potential, I do still worry about his strikeouts a bit (27.1 K% last year, 23.2 K% this year). Love both guys though and would be willing to move one or the other in a package for a guy like Upton no questions asked. Hell, if those two were going to be the centerpieces of a trade with some miscellaneous pieces added, go for it. I’d have no problem giving up Single-A kids — even super high-ceiling ones like Williams and Sanchez — for a player of Upton’s caliber and potential.
Daniel asks: If the time comes when Elvis Andrus hits the free agent market, can you see the Yankees being major players for him? I believe he’d hit the market at age 25 or 26.
Oh yes, definitely. Andrus is the guy I’m hoping the Yankees will grab to replace Derek Jeter when the time comes. He’ll become a free agent right as the Cap’n's deal is up and Texas has Jurickson Profar coming. Andrus is still only 23 (!) and will hit the open market at 26, so you’re getting all of his peak years. This is a guy that is already an elite defender at short who gets on-base (.368 OBP this year, .345 career), doesn’t strikeout (12.3 K% this year, 13.0 K% career), steals bases (30+ in each of the last three years plus he’ll get this year again), and stays on the field (145+ games played every year of his career). He also has World Series experience and that’s certainly not a negative.
Now obviously a lot can change between now and then, but Andrus makes a ton of sense for New York if they’re looking for a Jeter replacement in two years. I suspect Texas will either a) trade him, or b) trade Profar and extend Andrus before then, however. If he does hit the open market though, the bidding will be out of control. Middle infielders that productive and that young just don’t become free agents these days. I don’t think a deal worth $20M annually across 8-10 years is out of the question if he keeps this up.
Quick Update: Andrus is a Scott Boras client, so the odds of him signing an extension with Texas are small while the odds of him signing a megadeal as a free agent are huge.
Via Buster Olney, the Yankees tried to work out a sign-and-trade scenario with an unknown team that would have netted them Grant Balfour. Joe covered this exact idea back in December, though it was framed around Rafael Soriano. Basically, some team with a protected pick would sign Balfour and them trade him to the Yankees for a prospect that is equal to or greater than the value of the pick they gave up. Balfour would have had to consent to the trade per MLB’s rules since it would have occurred so soon after he signed.
Obviously this all took place before the Yanks agreed to sign Soriano and Balfour went to the A’s. I’m guessing that once they couldn’t get a trade for Balfour worked out, they decided to sign Soriano. If you’re going to give up the pick for the reliever, at least make it the best one available.
As much as baseball needs instant replay, the Elias free agent ranking system is perhaps in need of even more help. The rankings are generally laughable, and if you happen to be dubbed a Type-A free agent as a reliever, your value generally plummets once (if) your old club offers arbitration. We saw this two years ago with Juan Cruz, a guy that had posted 12+ K/9′s for consecutive years but couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to give up a high pick. I actually wrote a post imploring the Yankees to sign him since, at the time, they would have only surrendered a measly fourth round pick because of their first three picks were gone already, but that’s an extreme case.
Now that we know which players have been offered arbitration and will require draft pick compensation, we can cross them off our winter wish list…
The Rays are going to be swimming in draft picks next year; they have seven ranked free agents including three Type-A’s, meaning they could come into ten extra picks if they all sign elsewhere. One of those Type-A’s is Balfour, the hard-throwing Australian that has done fine work out of Tampa’s bullpen over the last few seasons. He’s struck out 234 batters in 203 innings with the Rays, getting his walk rate down to just 2.8 per nine last season. He is a fly ball pitcher, which would have been a bit of a problem in Yankee Stadium, but when you factor in the draft pick compensation, any chance of the Yankees pursuing him just went out the window.
Francisco, 31, was just about the only reliever I identified this winter as a potential buy low candidate for the Yankees. He’s coming off a strained rib cage that kept him out from the end of August right through Texas’ World Series run, so his stock is on the low side just because of that. His numbers have been nothing short of fantastic over the last three years, however. Francisco has struck out exactly 200 batters while walking just 54 unintentionally in 165.1 innings since 2008 thanks to his fastball-splitter combo, but the big drawback is that he can be homer prone (18 HR allowed during that time). I didn’t have him in mind as the undisputed eighth inning guy, just another high strikeout reliever to add to the bullpen.
The Rangers have a ton of hard throwing relievers in their bullpen, plus the newly minted Rookie of the Year at closer, so Francisco seemed like a slightly expensive luxury they could afford to let walk. He earned $3.265M last season, a nice chunk of change for a reliever, and an arbitration hearing could push him up to $4M. I didn’t expect Texas to offer him arb yesterday, but they did. The required draft pick compensation takes him completely off my radar. For shame.
Yankee fans have seen enough of Frasor during his time with the Blue Jays, and in fact they’ve seen him pitch in just about every relief role imaginable; long relief, middle innings, setup, ROOGY, closer, you name it. The 33-year-old finally found his way as a strikeout/semi-ground ball pitcher over the last two seasons, making the jump from solid to very good. Frasor has struck out just about a batter per inning (121 in 121.1 IP) and has kept the walks down (34 unintentional) during that time, and his grounder rate jumped to 43.4% in 2010. He had been just north of 38% before that, which isn’t all that bad either.
Toronto offered the Type-A free agent yesterday, so once again a team will have to surrender a high draft pick to sign a fungible reliever. For super-elite performers like Rafael Soriano, that’s fine. For anyone less than that, it’s a legit deal-breaker. Frasor earned $2.65M last season and is certain to get a bump up and over the $3M hump, which is fine on a one-year deal, even if you include a club option, but once you add in that draft pick, it’s just not worth it.
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Arbitration offers, and really the broken Elias ranking formula, killed the free agent value of Balfour, Francisco and Frasor. Unless a team has multiple first round picks or has already surrendered their top pick for signing another free agent, chances are they’ll look at these three and realize that there are some comparable arms out there that don’t require free agent compensation. The system’s broken and needs to be fixed, but we all know that already. There’s a good chance that all three of these righties will accept their team’s offer of arbitration, simply because the market won’t offer them much.