The Tampa Bay Rays had the lowest ERA of any bullpen in the American League in 2010, and the pitching of right-hander Grant Balfour was a big part of the Rays' success. The free agent signed a two-year deal with the Oakland A's on Tuesday.
Balfour appeared in 57 games for the Rays in 2010, posting a 2.28 ERA in 55.1 innings. He had a stellar 1.08 WHIP and 56 strike-outs. He also allowed only three homeruns. For his career, which spans seven seasons, Balfour has a 3.81 ERA. He was considered one of the top set-up men in this year's free agent class.
Balfour, a native of Sydney, Australia, began his career with the Minnesota Twins. He was with the Twins through the 2005 season, although he missed the entire 2005 season after under-going Tommy John surgery. Balfour signed with the Reds in 2006 on a minor league deal, but had shoulder surgery during spring training and appeared in only nine games, all at the A-ball level. In 2007, he signed on with Milwaukee and would get back to the major leagues with the Brewers, appearing in three games.
Balfour was traded midway through the 2007 season from Milwaukee to Tampa, where he found a home. He appeared in 22 games for the Rays in 2007, posting a 6.14 ERA. After starting the 2008 season in Triple-A, Balfour would be promoted to Tampa in time to appear in 51 games, posting a 1.54 ERA and helping the Rays reach the World Series.
In 2009, Balfour lost some of his command and his numbers suffered, as he posted a 4.81 ERA in a career-high 73 appearances. His command would return in 2010, and his nearly cut his walk total in half in lowering his ERA to 2.28.
Since his shoulder and elbow problems in 2005-2006, Balfour has been durable. He missed a little time in 2010 with a rib strain, but that was his only DL stint since 2006. Balfour is a hard-thrower, with his fastball generally sitting in the mid-90s and occasionally hitting the high-90s.
Balfour joins a talented A's bullpen that includes two-time All-Star Andrew Bailey, 2009 reliever strike-out leader Michael Wuertz, reliable lefty Craig Breslow and submariner Brad Ziegler. According to numerous reports from Ken Rosenthal and others this weekend, the A's are expected to add left-hander Brian Fuentes, who was the Angels' closer for much of last season, to the bullpen mix, as well.
The A's will also have a number of talented arms coming off of injuries who will compete for bullpen spots in spring training, including Joey Devine, Josh Outman, Jerry Blevins, Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Rich Harden. Outman, McCarthy, Ross and Harden will also be competing for a spot in the A's starting rotation.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Balfour, the A's designated prospect Clayton Mortensen for assignment. Mortensen was ranked as the A's 17th-best prospect for 2011 by Scout.com this off-season. He was coming off of a solid season with Triple-A Sacramento, during which he went 13-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 165.1 innings. He struck-out only 112, but he walked only 53. Mortensen was a mid-season PCL All-Star, as he was 10-2 with a 3.57 ERA before the break. He posted a 5.46 ERA after the break, as he seemed to tire at the end of the season, allowing 30 runs over his final eight starts.
Mortensen was acquired by the A's in 2009 from the St. Louis Cardinals as part of the Matt Holliday trade. The Gonzaga alum was a first-round pick of the Cardinals in 2007 and he made his major league debut for St. Louis in 2009. Mortensen appeared in one game for the A's in 2010, allowing three earned runs in six innings against the Kansas City Royals. He struck-out seven and walked two.
The A's also announced on Tuesday that they had come to terms with four of their remaining five arbitration-eligible players. Only Breslow remains unsigned from the arbitration-eligible group.