Ever since the Baltimore Orioles revoked their contract offer to Grant Balfour, kicked him out of their offices, and put a giant question mark on his shoulder (just look next time you see him - it's like that dust cloud that follows Pig Pen in Peanuts, assuming the dust cloud is an ominous sign not just a sign that he's a dirty kid - the question mark hovers above Balfour's right shoulder), I have been thinking about what the San Diego Padres' bullpen would look like with three closers. That's right, three!
Balfour was offered a 2-year, $15 million deal with the Orioles...pending a physical. While doctors with intimate knowledge of Balfour's medical records question Baltimore's eventual findings, the team was well within its rights to revoke their contract offer when they found something they didn't like. A club official leaked the fact that the issue was related to Balfour's shoulder, and thus immediately reduced his value on the free agent market regardless of whether the assessment is accurate or not. And many people DO NOT think it's accurate. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports even argues that the Orioles have a history of using questionable medical findings to get out of contracts they never really wanted in the first place. Yet, no matter how many doctors come to his defense, no matter how many agents question whether they'd be willing to work with the Orioles in the future, no matter how many analysts suggest Balfour's previous two seasons should speak for themselves, the 36-year old closer's value took a hit.
*Quick side note - I wonder if players ever consider suing a club when something like this happens. If there is enough evidence to suggest the Orioles were wrong in their findings and had no basis for it, Balfour could likely convince a jury to award him damages relative to the money lost when word came out that he supposedly had shoulder issues.
Now, let's bring this thing back to a Padres-focused theme. That's what you're here for, right? San Diego already has Huston Street. He's supposedly sticking around. They just signed Joaquin Benoit, and the people love that move. They've got a decent staff as a whole - as long as everyone stays healthy. What could they possibly need a guy like Balfour for (yep, read that last part out loud and your friends will think you have a stutter - that's professional writing there, folks)?
The use of bullpens has changed drastically in the last 20-30 years. Rather than sending starters as deep as possible in games, teams are apt to use specialty relievers in tight situations when their trust in the starter begins to wane. There are lefty specialists (hello, Patrick Schuster). There are long relievers (sup, Tim Stauffer). There are set-up men (that's you, Benoit). And there are middle relievers (take your pick here). Is it such a stretch to imagine a club building a pitching staff in which their starter only has to make is six innings every start?
Balfour in the seventh. Benoit in the eighth. Street closes the door in the ninth. Obviously, these guys can't pitch every night, so starters will have to go deeper at times. Also, the Padres aren't going to win every game (aren't they, though?), so there's some rest right there - you don't need any of those three guys in a loss. When the opponent realizes they only have six innings to take the lead in a game, maybe they press more. Maybe they try things that they otherwise wouldn't. An ill-advised steal attempt. A bunt when they should have been swinging away. These are all hypothetical scenarios, but do they seem so far-fetched?
You tell me. If Balfour could be signed for two years, $10 million, is such a bullpen design worth trying?