The Rays are losing one free agent after another — outfielder Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, relievers Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler and Randy Choate, among others.
Closer Rafael Soriano almost certainly will be the next to depart. Reliever Grant Balfour probably is a goner as well. But there is a chance, however small, that Balfour could return.
Balfour, 32, is a Type A free agent, and teams historically forfeit high draft picks for right-handed setup types only with great reluctance.
Two similar pitchers, the Blue Jays’ Jason Frasor and Rangers’ Frank Francisco, accepted one-year, non-guaranteed contracts through salary arbitration rather than risk a limited demand on the open market.
Balfour, however, rejected the Rays’ offer of arbitration, believing he would land a multi-year contract elsewhere.
Chances are, he will.
Twenty-one of the 30 clubs cannot lose a first-round draft pick for signing Balfour. The worst they could do was forfeit a second rounder.
The Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Phillies, Tigers and Nationals already have sacrificed first rounders for Type A free agents, and would lose only a second rounder for signing Balfour. The price could even drop to a third rounder if any of those teams added one of the other remaining Type As — Soriano, third baseman Adrian Beltre or right-hander Carl Pavano.
The teams that finished in the bottom 15 of the overall standings last season also cannot lose their first-round selections for a Type A free agent. Those clubs, too, can sign Balfour and sacrifice only a second rounder.
The Rays, then, need 21 teams to determine that Balfour is not worth the price of a second-round pick.
Could it happen? Sure.
Will it happen? Probably not.
— Ken Rosenthal