Let’s start with two facts that cannot be questioned.
The Houston Astros bullpen last season was horrible. Just brutal to watch. Jose Veras did do a very good job as the closer prior to being traded, but the Astros also had a lot of difficulty holding the lead and giving Veras a chance to save the game. It was not a secret that an improvement and upgrade was needed. So far that has happened this off-season, but in my opinion Jeff Luhnow cannot be done.
Chad Qualls saved 24 games in 2009 and 12 games in 2010. After struggling for two months to find a closer, Josh Fields had some success in that role last season saving five games. And that is it. That is the extent of the closing experience present in the Houston Astros bullpen heading in 2014. But there is time. Time to upgrade.
After agreeing to a two year, $15 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles last week, Grant Balfour is now back on the free agent market. The Orioles had issues with Balfour’s physical and the contract was never officially signed. At this point, I can’t imagine him getting an identical deal from team. But even if that identical contract was necessary to bring Balfour to Houston, I think Luhnow should pull the trigger.
For starters, the Orioles seem to be in the minority with their concern of Balfour’s health.
Rays team physician Koco Eaton, who has a lengthy history with Balfour, doesn’t know why.
Eaton examined Balfour in Tampa on Friday and also performed a contrast MRI on the pitcher’s right shoulder — the area that troubled the Orioles, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Asked if he was surprised that the Orioles declined to complete their deal with Balfour, Eaton said “Yes,” adding that approving the contract was “kind of a no-brainer.”
I also would not be concerned, because as Ken Rosenthal noted, this is not the first time the Orioles have done this to a player. Then factor in the fact that the closer has not been on the disabled list for his arm since 2006.
In the last two seasons, Balfour saved 24 and 38 saves respectively for the Oakland A’s with ERA’s of 2.53 and 2.59. Sign me up for that.
Acquiring a proven closer would make the bullpen better on multiple levels. The ninth inning would then be taken care of. Qualls would lock down the eighth inning. Fields would be allowed to grow and develop without any pressure. Matt Albers would be freed up to get the tough outs in the sixth and seventh innings.