Grant Balfour faces live hitters for first time since surgery

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From Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle comes word that A’s right-hander Grant Balfour faced live hitters on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing right knee surgery on February 14.

Balfour will probably face hitters in A’s camp another three or four times before being cleared to make his Cactus League debut. Relief pitchers usually only need a handful of spring training appearances to get properly tuned up for the season, so he should be fine for Opening Day if he can avoid setbacks.

Balfour registered a fantastic 2.53 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 75 appearances with the A’s last season, striking out 72 batters in 74 2/3 innings.

The fiery 35-year-old will serve as Oakland’s closer this summer if he is healthy.

Report: Phillies interested in Manny Machado; Orioles have done homework on Phillies’ minor league system

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Orioles third baseman Manny Machado will become a free agent after the 2018 season and there hasn’t been much in the way of progress on a contract extension between the two sides. It seems as if Machado will test the open market next offseason.

The Phillies, currently with relatively minuscule obligations for the 2018 season and beyond, are expected to be big players for Machado, as well as other potential free agents like Bryce Harper. In fact, the Phillies may not even want to wait until next offseason, as Roch Kubatko of MASN reports that the club has expressed interest in Machado to the Orioles. In return, the O’s have been doing their homework on the Phillies’ minor league system.

Kubatko notes that the Orioles like, in particular, Phillies prospects Sixto Sanchez and Scott Kingery. The Phillies may be hesitant to part with either considering they can get Machado for a lot of cash but no prospects next winter. MLB Pipeline rates Sanchez as the Phillies’ best pitching prospect and the second-best prospect overall in the system. Kingery is third overall and the top infielder. While the Phillies’ system is among the best in baseball, its notable weakness is pitching, so parting with Sanchez — who throws in the upper 90’s and can hit triple digits — would be a big ask. Kingery is seen as the club’s next second baseman of the future, so much so that the Phillies are shopping Cesar Hernandez at the Winter Meetings.

As usual with rumors during the Winter Meetings, there may be some smoke but no actual fire here. The Orioles are likely to get continued interest in Machado from many teams between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. They are simply doing their due diligence by seeing what the Phillies and others have to offer for Machado.