Earlier this afternoon word began to circulate that the Tampa Bay Rays plan a “significant baseball-related announcement” today, and that the team’s owner, GM and manager will all be on hand for it. While many folks had a lot of fun speculating fantastical possibilities, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! reports that the Rays are “deep into discussions with closer Grant Balfour. Suggesting that the announcement today will be a signing.
Balfour had a deal in place with the Orioles last month, but the team put the kibosh on it due to concerns about his wrist that they say came up during his physical. Balfour forcefully denied that anything was wrong with him.
Balfour posted a 2.35 ERA in his three years with Oakland while notching 64 saves. He pitched for the Rays from 2007 through 2010, so this would be a homecoming. And being in the same division as the Orioles, expect a lot of glares up to the GM’s box every time he closes one out in Baltimore.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.
Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.
Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.