In a season where everything has seemingly gone wrong, the Tampa Bay Rays got it right on Monday.
Skipper Joe Maddon held a closed-door meeting with Grant Balfour yesterday and informed him that he is no longer the Rays’ closer. Instead, the Rays will go with the dreaded “bullpen by committee.”
The front office gambled on a two-year, $11-million free agent contract (that also included a $1-million signing bonus) with Balfour hoping he could be the stopper for a bullpen that had a void at the back end. It was billed a “significant announcement” by the club in late January. Five months later Balfour has become one of the most expensive middle relievers in baseball.
Wins have been few and far between for the Rays this season, so they could ill-afford to have Balfour struggle in the closer’s role. He hardly looks like the same player that saved 38 games for Oakland last season. His strike out-to-walk ratio is almost 1:1, his WHIP is at his worst level since 2007, his ERA is 3-runs higher than his career average and his two blown saves is only one fewer than all of 2013.
A month prior to signing with the Rays, Balfour had reportedly agreed to a 2-year, $15-million deal with Baltimore only to have that deal fall through when the Orioles doctors weren’t comfortable with his knee and wrist. Hindsight is always 20/20, but what did the O’s see that the Rays didn’t?
Does Balfour get another shot to close games at some point this season? Maybe. If he accepts his new role and settles back into a groove, then I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another shot. Then again, that would mean that the collection of Rays relievers would also need to struggle, right? A bigger problem for Tampa Bay would be if Balfour puts himself before the team and voices his displeasure with the move. This club can’t handle that kind of distraction on top of the injuries and offensive woes they’ve been battling all season.
I like Grant Balfour’s passion and energy and approach to the closer’s role. But I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I haven’t liked his results so far in 2014. This franchise can’t afford to miss on free agents, especially ones that are supposed to play such an important role. And in a season that has been a giant disappointment, Balfour might be the biggest so far.