Is Grant Balfour destined to become the A’s closer?
If the A’s do, in fact, end up trading their All-Star closer Andrew Bailey*, who will become the team’s closer? The A’s have a few options, but one player stands out as the best option to Jospeh Lopez at Swingin’A's: Grant Balfour.
Balfour, 33, was acquired by Oakland last winter and signed a two-year deal with the club worth $8.1 million. The Australia native, who transitioned nicely from the tough AL East to the weaker AL West this season, pitched well during his first year with Oakland.
He went 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA this year through 62.0 innings of work. During his three years in Tampa Bay, Balfour went 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA over 181.0 innings. He also pitched in a much, much stronger division that Oakland’s cushion soft AL West division.
While he’s not primarily a closer, Balfour has the talent and quality stuff to become that guy Oakland needs in the ninth-innings. Considering the fact that he’s pitched against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox many times before in the past, the notion of Balfour closing out games in the ninth-innings is nothing controversial.
What could rub people the wrong way, though, is if Oakland were to hand the closer role to Brian Fuentes next year. Fuentes, 36, was another guy Oakland added to their ‘pen last winter, but unlike Balfour, Fuentes struggled this year.
He struggled in the closer’s role and struggled for most of the first half this year. Overall, Fuentes finished with a 2-8 record with 12 saves (three blown saves) and a 3.70 ERA over 58.1 innings of work. He showed signs of improvement during the second-half of the season, but A’s fans, in my mind anyway, would probably feel a little more at ease with Balfour on the mound than with Fuentes.
Fuentes does, however, add depth to Oakland’s bullpen and should, if he’s not traded this winter, continue to play an important role with the team next year. Balfour, though, remains Oakland’s best option for the closer’s role should the team decide to trade Andrew Bailey this winter.
Bailey performed well again this season for the Athletics. In 41.2 innings this year, Bailey recorded 24 saves and compiled a 3.24 ERA. He’s a talented young closer generating a ton of interest among teams in the market for a closer, so his time in Oakland could be limited. Replacing him in the bullpen, however, doesn’t figure to be an easy task to complete.
Bailey has 75 careers saves, Balfour has 10, and Fuentes has 199 saves in his career. Fuentes didn’t show his veteran grittiness this year, though, and didn’t impress many in the stands either.
*Why would the A’s want to move a 27-year-old closer [Bailey] who makes less than a million bucks, has a 2.07 career ERA and has averaged a strikeout per inning in his three major league seasons? Easy. They need offense, and numerous teams are shopping for a closer.