There hasn’t been much speculation surrounding Grant Balfour, largely because he’s a Type A free agent and most teams aren’t keen on surrendering a first-round draft pick to sign a non-closer reliever.
In fact, Balfour declining the Rays’ arbitration offer last month was viewed by many as a surprise because of how much the draft pick attached to signing him would hurt his market value.
However, teams with a pick in the top half of the first round have their pick protected, meaning they’d only lose a second-round pick for signing Balfour. That means sub-.500 teams–or above-.500 teams that have already signed another Type A guy–are his most likely suitors, so it makes sense that the Orioles have “definite interest” in Balfour, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com.
He’d be used as a late-inning setup man in Baltimore after filling that same role in Tampa Bay for the past three seasons, going 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 181 innings. If the draft pick compensation is scary most teams off the Orioles could get a bargain on a shutdown reliever, but their reported heavy interest in Kevin Gregg could ultimately rule out Balfour.
Garrett Atkins flopped for the Orioles after signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal last offseason, so he’s had to settle for a minor-league contract with the Pirates this time around and will be reunited with former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle.
Atkins gets an invitation to spring training, but the Pirates have already inked fellow third basemen/first basemen Andy Marte and Josh Fields to minor-league pacts, so there will be some competition for corner infield bench spots in Pittsburgh.
Atkins has gone from hitting .329 with 29 homers and 120 RBIs as a 26-year-old to on the verge of being out of baseball at age 31, and while that’s surprising it wasn’t particularly sudden. In his final four seasons with the Rockies his OPS dropped from .965 to .853 to .780 to .650, and by the end his numbers away from hitter-friendly Coors Field were horrendous. And then he hit .214 with a .562 OPS in 44 games for the Orioles, earning $500,000 per RBI.
Getting tired of waiting for Adam LaRoche to accept or decline their reported three-year, $21 million offer has caused the Orioles to “renew talks with Derrek Lee,” according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun.
Zrebiec reports that a deal with LaRoche was believed to be imminent at one point, but now the two sides are at an “impasse” for unknown reasons. He speculates that LaRoche is either holding out for more money or simply “doesn’t want to play in Baltimore.”
In either case the Orioles might be better off signing Lee to a one-year deal anyway. LaRoche is a solid enough player, but a slightly above average first baseman isn’t worth a three-year commitment at that type of money and there’s a strong chance Lee will be the more valuable first baseman in 2011.
Lee is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, yet his .774 OPS is basically the same as the .788 OPS posted by LaRoche. Age and health are also factors, but I’d certainly take my chances on Lee for one year before going anywhere near LaRoche for three years.