Bolstering the bullpen was a priority for the A’s, and they did just that Friday by agreeing to a two-year, $8.1 million contract with right-hander Grant Balfour. You can read details of the deal on our Web site, but here’s my take on it:
It’s an aggressive move, and one that I like for a few reasons. The A’s had the ingredients for a strong bullpen even without Balfour. But there are mild concerns with closer Andrew Bailey and lefty Jerry Blevins both coming off surgery and set-up man Michael Wuertz having been bothered by shoulder problems last year. Joey Devine could be a terrific addition if healthy but he hasn’t appeared in a game since 2008. Depth was definitely needed. Also, Balfour brings substantial postseason experience, having been to the playoffs with the Rays in 2008 and 2010, and the Twins in 2004. On paper, I’d say the A’s look like a contender for the AL West title. But it’s a roster that lacks much big-game experience, so adding a battle-tested reliever is important. And Balfour is a strikeout pitcher. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, Balfour has the third-best strikeout rate (10.29 per nine innings pitched) of all AL relievers over the past three years. The ability to miss bats is important in the late innings, and the A’s have several relievers with the stuff to do it — Bailey, Balfour, Devine (if healthy), Wuertz (if he rebounds from an inconsistent 2010) and Craig Breslow, whose 71 strikeouts last season set an Oakland record for lefty relievers.
Plus, I’d expect Balfour will bring an intangible element. The Australian has the reputation for being a wild man on the mound, cussing at himself to get fired up and occasionally jawing with hitters (he exchanged words with Orlando Cabrera during the 2008 ALDS). Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon once compared Balfour’s temperament on the mound to that of Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky. Adding a little fire to the current collection of personalities in the A’s clubhouse won’t hurt.
I know blog posts have been sparse lately (I was supposed to get some vacation this week, but the A’s aren’t cooperating). With 32 days left before Oakland’s pitchers and catchers report, let’s hear some thoughts on how you think this team is coming together …