Grant Balfour close to deal with Baltimore Orioles

When the Orioles traded Jim Johnson to Oakland, I assumed that they would look for internal options to replace his as the team’s closer. Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day are obvious candidates to fill the role.

In 2013, Hunter limited batters to a .217/.268/.261 slashline and posted a 3.86 K/BB in save situations (27 games, 123 plate appearances). O’Day saw similar success, .218/.269/.264 slash against with a 3.60 K/BB in save situations (26 games, 94 plate appearances)

Trading Johnson had nothing to do with his league-leading nine blown saves, it was a move made to dump his projected $10.8 million salary. In response, the O’s went out and signed Ryan Webb, who posted very similar numbers to JJ, to a much more team-friendly two-year, $4.5 million deal.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast.

Now that the Winter Meetings have come and gone, the only real move the Orioles made was adding Julio Borbon in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft [1]. Despite glaring holes in the starting rotation, left field and DH, the biggest news in Baltimore is that the Orioles seem to be targeting another closer, Grant Balfour.

Steve Adams of projects that Balfour will sign a two-year, $18 million contract, only slightly less than he expects Johnson to make in his third year of arbitration. SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo says Balfour is looking for three-years and the Orioles are offering two. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets the Orioles are “confident of landing Balfour”.

All signs point to it happening, I’m just not sure why.

The All-Star closer recorded 38 saves with the A’s in 2013, posting a 2.59 ERA, 1.197 WHIP and 2.67 K/BB. Balfour is a fly ball pitcher, who posted a 39.1 fly ball percentage in 2013, 11.1% of those fly balls turn into home runs — and that’s with half his games in the roomy Coliseum.

Why not spend some of that money the Orioles saved by trading Johnson on a starter like Bronson Arroyo, who Adams projects will make $24 million over two seasons? He’s not the front end of the rotation arm the Orioles truly need, but he’s pitched over 200 innings in nine consecutive seasons.

Or, if they really wanted to make a splash, the O’s could spend the money they saved on Johnson as part of a deal for Ubaldo Jimenez‘s who projects to make $39 million over three-years.

Maybe they’ll do both, sign a proven closer and add a valuable arm to the rotation. However, that would require expanding their payroll past last season’s $92 million mark and I just don’t see them going too far past that total.

If they do decide to stand pat in the starting rotation, it’s a huge mistake. Orioles starters posted a 4.57 ERA in 2013, ranking 27th in all of baseball. They won’t have to worry about a closer at all if they don’t improve their starting five this winter.

[1] – Technically, Webb’s deal became official this week too.