Who will close next season in Oakland?

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The A’s dealt closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox on Wednesday evening as part of a five-player swap. The trade has all sorts of implications, many of which we’ll analyze over the next few months leading into the start of spring training. But let’s start simple, with a look at the back end of the Oakland bullpen.

A’s assistant GM David Forst told Jane Lee of MLB.com soon after the Bailey trade was officially announced that there are three primary candidates for the club’s opening at closer: Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos and Joey Devine. They’ll duke it out in camp until a winner emerges.

Balfour, a native of Australia, has registered a 2.38 ERA since the start of the 2010 season and boasts a cool 9.9 career K/9. He seems like the probable front-runner for the ninth-inning job, given that he’d make for the most logical trade chip come July. The A’s are trying to get younger — trying to build a roster that will be competitive by the time they move into a new ballpark. Balfour is 33 years old and is owed $4 million in 2012.

De Los Santos has a sizzling fastball that averaged just under 96 mph this past year, but he’s only 25 years old and has just one year of major league service under his belt. The A’s can build around him. Devine also throws hard, but he’s amassed only 23 innings since the end of the 2008 campaign due to elbow problems.

If De Los Santos proves ready this spring or if Devine builds trust through good health, perhaps one of those two will get the nod. But padding Balfour’s trade value with a decent saves total might be the best route.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.