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Thursday, January 23, 2014
Smart Rays swoop in to grab Grant Balfour

By David Schoenfield

Fun with numbers. Best ERA since 2010, minimum 250 innings:

1. David Robertson, 2.36
2. Clayton Kershaw, 2.37
3. Grant Balfour, 2.47

At two years and $12 million, this looks like a solid signing for the Tampa Bay Rays, who were looking to replacing free agent closer Fernando Rodney. Signing more of a sure thing like Balfour is a better risk than giving the job to veteran Heath Bell and it allows manager Joe Maddon to slide Joel Peralta and Jake McGee back into the setup roles where they've excelled the past two seasons. If Bell provides anything of value, it will be a bonus.

Still, the Rays will be paying $6 million for Balfour, $5.5 million for Bell and $3 million for Peralta this season, so those three relievers will account for nearly 20 percent of the team's projected $74 million payroll. It's not that they're overpaying for any of those guys, just that usually small-market teams will attempt to scrimp on payroll. The Rays can get away with it in part because Evan Longoria will make only $7.5 million (he's the second-highest paid player on the team behind David Price), Ben Zobrist is a bargain at $7 million and they still have key contributors like Alex Cobb, Desmond Jennings and Chris Archer in their pre-arbitration years.

The Rays are once again showing why they can continue to win on their limited budget.

As for Balfour, he's not without risk considering he failed his physical with the Orioles (reports were the Orioles were worried about his knee, not his arm). He is 36 years old, but he's been a solid reliever for several years now. He should be fine as the closer, a small upgrade from what Rodney gave them a year ago.