Balfour and Gross Come to Terms with Rays
With the deadline coming up fast for arbitration, the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten two of their eligible players signed to contracts for 2009. The Rays announced late tonight that reliever Grant Balfour has agreed to a one-year , $1.4 million dollar contract. He was the second Rays player to sign in recent days joining right fielder Gabe Gross, who signed for one-year, $ 1.255 million dollar deal on Weds.
That leaves the Rays with only three players who might be going to the arbitration table to exchange figures for their 2009 season. Rays 2008 MVP shortstop Jason Bartlett, starting catcher Dioner Navarro and utility infielder Willy Aybar are the only unsigned arbitration eligible players left for the A L Pennant winning Rays.
Most people will remember Balfour in 2008 as the Rays player who most resembles a patient from a mental institution based on his on-the-mound antics of cursing and screaming at himself. But besides that behavior,Balfour had a career season in 2008 after not making the Rays roster out of spring training for the Rays. The hard throwing Aussie went down to the Durham Bulls on April 2nd, and immediately began to work on his return to the Rays. While in Durham, Balfour appeared in 15 games in Durham and posted a 1-0 record and an outstanding .038 ERA, with 8 saves for the Bulls. On May 29, 2008, the Rays bought Balfours contract from the Bulls and he was brought up to replace Troy Percival, who began his first 15-day Disabled List visit for a left hamstring strain.
For the year, Balfour pitched in 17 of the Rays last 34 games of the season. During that stretch, he pitched scoreless relief appearances in 15 of his last 16 appearances. For the year, Balfour tied with J P Howell for the team lead in relief wins with 6, which was one win off the team’s current relieving record. During 2008, Balfour lead all MLB relievers with a 12.66 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched ratio, and also struck out 36 percent of the batters he faced in 2008, also tops in the majors.
His ending 1.54 ERA was the 4th best in the American League, and his .143 opponents batting average was best in the American League, but only second best in the majors behind only Carlos Marmol of the Chicago Cubs, who posted a .136 for the season. Balfour allowed only 3 home runs and 11 extra base hits all year long. His .230 Slugging Percentage was the second best average in the American League behind Joey Devine ( .168 ) of the Oakland A’s.
During a second Disabled List visit by Percival in July for another left hamstring strain, Balfour earned 3 of his 4 saves in 2008. If you combined his time with the Rays and the Bulls in 2008, Balfour went 7-2, saved 12 of 13 save chances, with a 1.23 ERA. Also of amazement is the fact he held batters’ at both levels to a .123 batting average in 2008.
In the 2008 postseason, Balfour did not fare as well as during the regular season. The usually confident Balfour ran into trouble and appeared in 10 games going only 8.2 innings and gave up 11 hits and 6 earned runs during the Rays postseason run. His 6.23 ERA showed he was battling throughout the postseason with control, further evidenced by his 8 walks and only 7 strikeouts during the playoffs.
Outfielder Gabe Gross came to the Rays in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers on April 22, 2008. In his last game with the Brewers the night before, he came around to score the winning run in the team’s victory. To obtain Gross, the Rays sent minor league pitcher Josh Butler to the Brewers. During the course of the season, Gross began to platoon in right field with Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes and was a key defensive substitution for the Rays in later innings in games.
Gross started in 78 of the 141 games since he was acquired from the Brewers. 4 of those starts were in center field for the Rays. He entered the game 39 times in 2008 as a late inning substitution. During 2008, he hit a career high 13 home runs. His prior career best season total was 9 home runs in 2006, with the Brewers. Gross hit a monster 437-foot 2-run home run on August 6th against the Cleveland Indians to tie the score for the Rays. During the 2008 season, Gross was credited with 5 outfield assists in right field.
Tampa Bay went on to win 10-7 on a 3-run blast by Carlos Pena later in that inning. Gross also combined to hit .293 in August with 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s for the team. During the 2008 season, Gross had 3 walk-off RBI’s tying the clubs record for a single season. The first came on May 13th against the New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera when he singled home Jonny Gomes for the winning run. The came his walk-off homer against Matt Thronton and the Chicago White Sox. This homer was also his first homer off a left hander in his career. The last one came on June 21st against Houston Astros reliever Doug Brocail when he doubled to score the winning run.
During the 2008 postseason, Gross also did not have a very productive post season as he only appeared in 10 games and went 1-19, with 2 RBI’s to post a .174 average for the playoffs. Gross was responsible for several defensive plays during the postseason playing 61.2 innings and garnishing one outfield assist for the Rays. It is expected in 2009, that Gross will be sued primarily in right field, but could start in center field the first week of the season while B J Upton is still rehabbing from his off season shoulder surgery. The Rays have primary plans to use Gross as a rightfield starter against right handed pitchers in 2009.