Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics

Somewhere along the way, the Baltimore Orioles turned themselves into a very smart team. Facing the expensive prospect of giving a reliever coming off a down year, they improved their second base depth, signed another Proven Closer and added a nice setup guy for good measure – today signing Grant Balfour to a two-year deal reportedly worth $14MM.

Grant Balfour is a legit power pitching stud, with gaudy strikeout totals and a big time fastball, brings his spastic show east to Baltimore. His strikeout rate has grown each of the last three years, all while keeping his walks in check and keeping the ball in the park.

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It appears the days of the expensive closer are all but over. The aren’t many B.J. Ryan contracts out there anymore. Two years and more than $14MM seems almost reasonable when contrasted against some of the wilder starter contracts out there.

Though he’s about to enter his age-36 season, the demonstrative Australian has great numbers over the past four years – the Orioles acquired a very good pitcher at a reasonable enough rate.

Being able to parlay Jim Johnson into Balfour, Ryan Webb, and Jemile Weeks is how a team on a budget competes with the wealthy Red Sox and Yankees. Little moves and pieces that don’t move the needle on their own but sure look nice when you zoom out a little.

Yankees Pay for Past Performance

There was a time, not that long ago, when Matt Thornton was arguably the best reliever in baseball. He didn’t rack up the saves but from 2008 through 2011, Matt Thornton was as good as any one.

The busted starting pitcher found new life in the White Sox bullpen, throwing extremely hard from the left side and racking up strikeouts and Wins Above Replacement, no mean feat for a relief pitcher.

That Matt Thornton is, sadly, gone. This Matt Thornton was left off the Boston Red Sox postseason roster and just isn’t quite the same at 36 or 37 compared to his early-30s peak.

Swinging strike percentage, courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The Yankees aren’t asking Thornton to be that guy, hopefully. They have solid enough bullpen, with David Robertson and Shawn Kelly holding down the late innings, signing Thornton to a two-year contract worth $7 million, according to Jack Curry of YES.

Matt Thornton will be a LOOGY and, given the chance, he’ll probably be pretty good. So long as manager Joe Girardi recognizes the tall lefty isn’t the guy coming out of the bullpen for Ozzie Guillen‘s White Sox. Handle with care and the Yankees should be okay. Should be…there can never be enough bullpen insurance, as we all know.