The Baltimore Orioles are moving towards a deal with free agent closer Grant Balfour, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The team is also talking with former Indians closer Chris Perez and John Axford as possible plan-B options, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Kubatko says the team and Balfour's agent have discussed parameters for the deal and the next step will be a formal offer.
If Baltimore does sign Balfour they will have essentially swapped closers with the Oakland Athletics. Baltimore sent Jim Johnson, who led the league in saves as the Orioles closer in 2012 and 2013, to Oakland for second baseman Jemile Weeks one week ago.
Closing out games for the Athletics in 2013, the free agent Balfour recorded 38 saves with a 2.59 ERA over 62 2/3 innings.
If that is the case, the swap could be a significant win for the Orioles. Johnson is in his final arbitration season this year and Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors projects a salary of $10.8 million for him this off-season. While Balfour could cost more and will almost certainly require a longer commitment, he was not extended the qualifying offer so he will not cost them a draft pick to sign and the difference in cost for 2014, if there is any, should be relatively small. For that trade off, Baltimore has gotten a strong buy-low candidate as a potential long-term solution at second with team control through 2019 in Weeks and a very capable replacement for the ninth inning in Balfour. Though Johnson has the advantage in saves the two are very close in ERA over the last four seasons and Balfour has shown far greater strikeout ability.
If Balfour doesn't sign with the Orioles, the team appears to well-prepared to move on to Axford and Perez, so one way or another, Baltimore looks determined to find a solution for the ninth inning in the next day or two.