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Balfour Seeks Multi-Year Deal; Bartlett Continues to Fly in Trade Rumors

The fact that Grant Balfour declined arbitration is a slight surprise. On one hand he's had a fine three year run in Tampa Bay and has earned the right to test the free agent waters. On the other hand he's a Type A free agent reliever and the market for teams that will give up a first round draft pick to sign him is mighty thin. Yes, Joaquin Benoit received a lucrative three year deal with the Tigers, but being a Type B free agent made his situation a bit different. While the money would be surely be nice, the thing Balfour wants most is a multi-year contract, saying:

"I'll take my chances on what I've done the past few years,'' he said. "I believe there's a multi-year deal out there for me.''

If he had accepted arbitration from the Rays Balfour would be looking at a raise to somewhere between $4-5 million for next season. Instead, Balfour is admittedly taking a risk and may find himself in the same situation that Juan Cruz did two off seasons ago. Cruz was coming off back to back seasons with the Diamondbacks where he posted ERA/FIP's of 3.10/3.70 and 2.61/3.62 with a K/9 rate of above 12.00 each year. He took a chance and declined arbitration as a Type A free agent...and didn't get signed until the Royals (somewhat foolishly) signed him to a 2year/$6 million contract in late February. P.T. Barnum is famous for saying "There's a sucker born every minute." I'm not saying a team would necessarily be a sucker for signing Balfour to a multi-year contract, but it probably wouldn't be the smartest thing in the world either. But, if Juan Uribe can get a three year contract, there's hope for everyone.

If you were to guess what the hottest name being bandied about in trade talks was this off season I'm guessing Jason Bartlett wouldn't immediately come to mind. Amazingly, that is exactly the case right now. It's no secret that the Rays would move him in the right deal, and there are plenty of teams that could use help at shortstop. Tommy Rancel covered all of those details today at ESPN1040. The Giants, one team that seemed like a logical fit for Bartlett, went out and signed Miguel Tejada to a one year, $6.5 million dollar contract. Bartlett is younger, a better defender, and less expensive than the aging Tejada. While that would seemingly take the Giants out of the running for Bartlett, CBSSports' Scott Price has this to say:

Meanwhile, even after striking a deal with Tejada, the Giants, according to sources, are one of several clubs engaging the Rays in conversations regarding Bartlett.

 Really? Well, if you insist, Mr. Sabean. Price continues:

Aside from the Giants, the Orioles and Padreshave expressed interest, according to sources. The Cardinals kicked the tires as well before nabbing Theriot for Hawksworth, who would have fit one of the areas the Rays are attempting to re-load.

San Diego could offer closer Heath Bell, who is eligible for free agency after 2011 and is expected to be moved sometime between now and the July trade deadline. Having lost Tejada to the Giants on Tuesday and having declined to offer arbitration to David Eckstein, the Padres are down to Everth Cabrera, Jerry Hairston Jr. and rookie Matt Antonelli as serviceable middle infielders.

Heath Bell for Jason Barltett would be interesting, but Bell is arb3, meaning he's due a substantial raise from the $4 million he made in 2010. He'll likely get something in the $8 million range. The Rays pulled off a similar move last winter when Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration from Atlanta and was traded, along with his $7 million salary, to the Rays. I don't see them doing that again when they're slashing payroll all over the board. However, Bartlett would seem like a perfect fit for San Diego.

The Winter Meetings begin next week in Orlando - the talks should only heat up.