It has become the trademark move of the right field bleachers in Oakland. The wild flailing of arms set to Metallica’s “One” as Athletics closer Grant Balfour makes his way to the mound and warms up. It was just one of those things that took on a life of its own. But in all likelihood, Game 5 of the ALDS will be known as the final chance to rage for the fans in Oakland.
As we all know, Grant Balfour is a free agent, and the soon to be 36 year old reliever is expected to find a new home this offseason. The A’s are known for having a revolving door at the back end of the bullpen, and letting Balfour walk would be totally consistent with that philosophy. Since the days of Jason Isringhausen, we’ve seen Billy Koch, Keith Foulke, Arthur Rhodes, Octavio Dotel, Huston Street, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Cook, and most recently Balfour closing games for the A’s; if that doesn’t show a consistent pattern of change then nothing does.
I think the philosophy of never overpaying a closer is a sound one, unless you happen to have an utterly dominant closer like Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera, or a Hall of Famer like Dennis Eckersley, or a flamethrower like Craig Kimbrel. Despite what some might believe about Balfour, considering the consecutive saves streak he had, Balfour is nowhere near that caliber. Add in the fact that he’s heading into the latter years of his career, committing more than another year at a time to him would be foolish.
It would seem likely that the A’s would hand over the reigns of the closer job to either Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle. Cook had his audition as closer after Balfour struggled early in 2012, but he had his own issues. Doolittle has had a select few appearances as a closer, and has looked dominant in those outings. I would expect, and hope that Doolittle gets the first shot at the job. A dominant left handed closer could be a huge asset to the Athletics, and the team could seek to bring in a setup man to take Doolittle’s place via trade or through free agency.
A team like the Athletics has to be smart with the limited resources they have, and spending $8-10 million a year on a 36 year old closer simply does not make any sense. Fans will have to resort to carrying a boombox into the bleachers, and raging when Balfour enters the game as a member of the opposition. At least there will be far fewer rotator cuff injuries in Oakland next year.