Mike Rizzo hasn’t been afraid in the past to make a surprise January signing, even at positions that already appear to be filled — ie. Edwin Jackson in 2012 and Rafael Soriano in 2013 — so it perhaps wasn’t all that surprising over the weekend when a report by FoxSports.com suggested the Nationals have some interest in reliever Grant Balfour.
The Nationals, of course, already have the highest-paid closer in baseball in Soriano. They also have two high-priced setup men with closing experience in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.
So, why would they have any interest right now in adding yet another high-priced, late-inning reliever like Balfour? Rizzo was asked about that this morning in an interview on MLB Network…
"At this time of year, we’re looking at any way to improve our ballclub. And sometimes you get some values at this time of year. We’re looking at any way to either strengthen a weakness that we have, or … we feel our bullpen is extremely strong, and it’s a big part of our ballclub. But if you can strengthen a strength, that never hurts either. You can never have too many good players. And especially in January, you can never have too many good arms, too many starters, too many relievers. We’re looking at every avenue, and we leave no stone unturned. If you can find a value and improve your ballclub, strengthen a strength, we’re all for it.”
That wasn’t exactly a confirmation by Rizzo of the Nationals’ interest in Balfour, but it also fell well short of a denial. So, let’s read between the lines a bit to try to decipher what’s going on here.
Balfour likely wasn’t on the Nationals’ radar when the offseason began. They weren’t going to shell out $15 million over two years to a 36-year-old with aspirations of closing for a big-league club. That’s what the Orioles offered Balfour last month, and that’s the offer he accepted … until Baltimore nixed the deal after his physical reportedly revealed concerns about either his shoulder, wrist or knee.
In the time that has passed since then, Balfour hasn’t come close to signing anywhere else. In other words, his price has dropped, probably by a significant amount.
Now Rizzo looks at the market and sees a quality reliever who perhaps could be had for far less than his original asking price. That doesn’t mean the Nationals are all-in on Balfour, and it doesn’t mean his preference is to sign with a Washington club that wouldn’t offer him a full-time closer’s job.
But, as we’ve seen before, Rizzo loves to swoop in and acquire players whose price has dropped. Balfour’s price certainly has dropped, so it shouldn’t come as a shock the Nationals would suddenly have some interest.