The Rays former Australian relief pitcher Grant Balfour was in line for a huge payday this off-season after saving 38 games for Oakland last year. Now his value has taken a significant hit.
Grant Balfour had a two-year, $15M deal in hand from the Baltimore Orioles, but was unable to pass his physical with team doctors. The Orioles reportedly had concerns about Balfour's throwing shoulder, which was operated on three years prior to him joining the Rays organization in 2007.
This came as a shock to Balfour, who claims to be "100-percent fine." Balfour received a second opinion from Rays team doctor Koco Eaton on Friday, who worked with Balfour during his time with the Rays through 2010, and he agreed.
Eaton told Ken Rosenthal, "The MRI that I did on him today looked exactly the same as the MRI I did three years ago," and called the two-year contract with Baltimore a "no-brainer":
"It did not look normal compared to a person who does not play baseball for a living. But for someone who plays baseball for a living, it looked normal. There are abnormalities on the MRI as there are on every single baseball player's. But three years ago, there was no issue, and he had pretty good performance when he was with Oakland."
According to a source, the Orioles did not compare Balfour's present MRI to the one he had three years ago, as is customary.
Eaton also claimed there has been no change in risk for Balfour since his days with the Rays: "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," Eaton told Rosenthal. "And there was no problem over the past three years."
Timothy Kremchek, Balfour's surgeon that repaired his rotator cuff almost a decade ago in 2005, reviewed the report from the Baltimore doctors, and was reportedly surprised how little had changed. "For a guy in his 30s who has pitched [in the major leagues] six or seven years since his rotator-cuff repair, his MRI on his shoulder looks remarkably good." Kremchek is the same doctor who performed Balfour's Tommy John surgery in 2004.
Baltimore claims they did not "back out" of the deal, and would still be interested at one-year guaranteed with an option, but in the mean time, the Orioles have chosen to walk away from the deal, which could cost Balfour a significant amount of money.
Balfour remains a free agent, and is considering filing a grievance with Baltimore through the player's union.
These events may coalesce into a benefit for the Rays. According to ESPN's Jim Bowden, the Rays are now in on Balfour, which makes sense given the team doctor's public opinions on Balfour's health. They are the only team rumored to have interest at this time.
In his three years with the Athletics, Balfour stuck out 203 batters in 199.1 innings, and over the last two seasons as the team's closer, converted 62 of 67 save opportunities.
Balfour fared well in O.Co stadium, which has a similar park factor to Tropicana Field, performing a full run better in FIP and 1.5 runs better in ERA. Last year, he posted his highest K-rate since 2008 at 27.5%, while walking twenty-seven batters.
The Aussie was particularly effective against opposite handed batters last season, and generally stayed out of trouble against right handed batters so long as he kept it away from the upper third of the zone. Balfour is adept at getting whiffs when he pitches in the zone, but generally stays away from hitters. Some framing on the low-outside corner against right handed hitters could improve his game.
A two pitch reliever, Balfour owns a 4-seam fastball that sits at 94 -- which has not lost velocity over his career, and is used approx. 65% of the time -- and a slider at 87. He also mixes with a 12-6 curveball.
Balfour's most successful season came in 2008 with the Rays during the World Series run, where he sported a 36.6% strikeout rate and 88% LOB-rate, with a 1.54 ERA and 2.22 FIP. He was credited with six wins and four saves in 58.1 innings.