What kind of job security does Grant Balfour have this time around?
It's hard to say, because he really didn't deserve to lose his job so quickly last season. The right-hander's rough stretch last May coincided with some minor ailments, like back pain and illness, but Bob Melvin didn't give him much of a break and for some reason thought that Brian Fuentes was a better alternative, at least in the short term. Soon after that, Melvin resorted to a committee approach, followed in short order by the appointment of rookie Ryan Cook as lead dog. All the while, a healthy Balfour was in the midst of an 18-inning stretch in which he gave up only one run.
In theory, because the veteran closed out last season by saving 17 straight beginning on Aug. 11 - a stretch of 20 2/3 innings during which he yielded only five runs and held opponents to a .130 average - he's built up some credibility with Melvin. Little about the skills of Balfour, 35, have changed in the past few seasons, at least to the point that suggests he's close to serious decline.
The competition should be a little fiercer, however. Cook, 25, established himself as the prime candidate for closer of the future. Not because of his 14 saves, although those helped; the right-hander who'd struggled with his control throughout the first half (4.93 BB/9) was spot on after the break (1.54 BB/9). Sean Doolittle, 26, a failed first baseman who - lo and behold! - has a wicked left arm, quickly established himself with an 11.41 K/9 and 2.09 BB/9 in 47 1/3 major league innings. Keep in mind that he essentially made the conversion from position player to major league pitcher in the span of a calendar year, maybe less.
Balfour is still in Oakland because the A's determined that he was more valuable to them in a run to the postseason than as a bartering chip. Picking up his 2013 option was a no-brainer, but Oakland will almost certainly be gauging outside interest in him later this season. The frugal franchise has already seen the future, so Balfour has a good four months, at best, to rack up them saves.
Who'll serve as tricks up this rotation's sleeve in 2013?
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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