Looking for Relief: Grant Balfour, Rafael Soriano, & Jon Rauch | The Process Report

Looking for Relief: Grant Balfour, Rafael Soriano, & Jon Rauch

On Saturday’s conference call, Andrew Friedman said the Rays’ goal is to take the money saved in the Matt Garza trade and put it back into the 2011 team; namely the bullpen and the offense. To date, we’ve run through a bunch of names, options, and scenarios. Meanwhile, we have not really explored the possibility of bringing back Grant Balfour at length.

Before the middle relief market exploded – prompting him to decline the Rays offer of arbitration – it seemed that Balfour was the most likely relief pitcher to come back to the Rays in 2011. While he is no doubt better than Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and a host of other middle relievers who received multi-year deals, Balfour is still seeking employment.

His numbers over the past three years (2.81 ERA, 10.3 K/9) are those of a true relief ace; however, he has just a handful of saves and was overshadowed in 2010 by Joaquin Benoit. He is also saddled with Type-A free agent status, and few teams are willing to surrender a first or even a second round pick for a non-closing relief pitcher.

New reports say some teams are shying away from Balfour due to concerns over decreasing velocity. His fastball velocity dropped for the third straight season and he’s had major arm problems in the past. That said, his increased feel for his slider and curveball might offset the loss of some heat.

Like we’ve said before, the Rays can’t offer free agent relievers a lot of money, but they can offer opportunity. At this stage in the offseason, it looks like the market for relievers has cooled a bit; making it unlikely that Balfour gets one of those popular three-year deals. On top of that, most teams looking for relief help have already added an arm or two, limiting the potential suitors.

 If he is willing to accept a one-year deal, the Rays almost certainly would welcome him back. Without Soriano and Benoit at the backend of the bullpen, Balfour could increase his late inning role with the team to include more save opportunities and potentially more dollars next year. If there is some concern over about injury, who better to watch over his right arm than Ron Porterfield and co.

A lot of what has been said here can also be said for 2010 closer Rafael Soriano. As the best non-Mariano Rivera closer on the market, Soriano was set to cash in on his fantastic season with the Rays. Whether he overestimated his value or he’s just really bad at being a free agent, Soriano sits without a job less than six weeks away from reporting day.

Somewhat admitting defeat, Soriano’s agent Scott Boras said his client would consider a set-up role for the right price. On the other hand, Boras knows the big bucks come with the saves. If Soriano has to choose between a set-up role with another team or taking a little bit less to close for the Rays, Tampa Bay might be the more attractive option. Soriano’s name was recently mentioned in the New York tabloids as being somewhat difficult and unwilling to take the ball when asked. While these may just be rumors, it certainly doesn’t help his already dwindling value.

Though he is not a former Rays’ reliever, Jon Rauch also fits here. The one-time closer for the Washington Nationals and part-time closer for the Minnesota Twins in 2010 also remains dry in market where owners once made it rain on relievers. He would probably command a little bit more in salary than Balfour, but would come less than Soriano.

Friedman mentioned adding a reliever or two this weekend. I’d take two of the three names above.

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