Grant Balfour free agency: Orioles are front runners for closer

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The former Athletics closer could replace new Athletics closer Jim Johnson on the Orioles' roster.

The Baltimore Orioles are heavily eyeing Grant Balfour and appear to be the front-runners to sign the closer, reports Jen Royle of the Boston Herald.

Balfour, 35, has closed out games for the Athletics each of the last two years and has 72 saves over his career. Over 65 appearances in 2013, he posted a 2.59 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. In three years with Oakland, Balfour pitched 198⅓ innings with a 2.53 ERA and 203 strikeouts.

Baltimore has not yet made an offer to Balfour, though the two sides have been talking, and an offer could be sent Balfour's way today.

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The Orioles have been rumored to be seeking a replacement closer on the free agent market after trading Jim Johnson to Oakland and may find their man in the former Athletics reliever. The Orioles had been rumored to be in on Edward Mujica before he signed with the Red Sox and also have shown interest in former Cardinals and Brewers reliever John Axford.

The team traded Johnson in large part because they did not want to pay him the roughly $10 million he would have received in arbitration. That makes signing Balfour seem like an odd move, but they are hoping to give him a multiple-year deal that would keep the average annual value lower. They had tried to do the same thing with Johnson by offering him an extension, but he turned them down.

The Baltimore relief corps was middle-of-the-pack in the MLB in 2013, combining for a 3.52 ERA. Outside of Johnson, Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter were the two key cogs in keeping the bullpen afloat. Both players will be back in 2014, but no other Orioles' reliever had an ERA under 3.50 last year.

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