The Tampa Bay Rays have answered the question as to who will be their ninth inning man for 2014. On Thursday afternoon, the Rays signed Grant Balfour to a two-year deal worth $12 million.
Balfour pitched for the Rays for three seasons as a setup man, and was part of the 2008 squad that lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Balfour moved on to the Oakland Athletics in 2011, and has served as their closer for the past two seasons. He was very successful in both seasons as a closer, saving 24 of 26 opportunities in 2012 and 38 of 41 last season. Balfour also had a streak of 44 consecutive saves with Oakland, which is a franchise record, as well as the sixth-longest streak in Major League history.
Balfour’s addition tops off an already very strong Rays bullpen, which is a crucial part of staying successful late in the season. He joins two former closers in Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez), as well as the Rays’ two setup men from last season, Joel Peralta and Jake McGee. With this much depth, a lot of stress has been taken off of Joe Maddon. He now has more flexibility in any cases of injury, and does not have to worry about working his starters harder than he would like.
With the addition of Balfour, and the fact that it is becoming increasing unlikely with each passing day that the club will move ace David Price, the team’s payroll is now at approximately $80 million, which is much higher than expected. This makes it seem as though the Rays may be making a strong push to have 2014 be a championship season, before Price is likely signed by a team that can afford him next offseason.
Although this season’s club may not have a ton of huge names on the roster, it is certainly a team with a lot of depth. The Rays have a lot of quality infielders and outfielders, and have also added some depth behind the plate by gaining Ryan Hanigan in a trade earlier this offseason. With this deep bullpen, and a very respectable starting rotation, the Rays are definitely in a position to make a push for a championship this season.
The key to the Rays’ success in 2014 highly depends on how the other teams in the AL East play. In a division that includes the World Series Champions, as well as a dangerous Baltimore Orioles club and the new-look New York Yankees, the Rays have a lot on their plate. Ultimately, their depth may be the key to winning the division, or at least earning a Wild Card spot. As the season drags on, teams may be forced to deal with some key injuries, which could leave the door open for the very deep Tampa Bay roster to shine.