01/23/2006 1:00 PM ET
Mailbag: Will Balfour help the Reds?
Beat reporter Mark Sheldon answers fans' questions
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
What do you think Grant Balfour brings to the table for the Reds, and when will he even be healthy enough to pitch for us? Do you think dropping Josh Hancock was a smart move to make room for a guy who is injured?
-- Sean Y., Cincinnati
Before having elbow surgery early last year, Balfour had the ability to heave a 96-97 mph fastball and could mix it with a pretty good slider. He appeared to have the makings of a potentially solid set-up reliever in the late innings. But it was his inability to stay healthy enough to be on the mound the past couple of seasons that frustrated the Twins organization to no end.
Besides having Tommy John surgery on the elbow (performed by Reds orthopedist Tim Kremchek), Balfour had a rehab setback in the fall and needed additional shoulder surgery. He also missed two months of 2004 with a shoulder injury.
At $340,000 for one year, the financial risk for the Reds on Balfour was low. But to eat a spot on the 40-man roster to make room for him by signing him to a Major League contract certainly raised an eyebrow here. The right-hander is not expected to be ready to contribute for Cincinnati until at least June. But Reds management seems quite high on him to take that gamble. As for Hancock, it wasn't a total drop out of the organization. He cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Louisville.
Why don't the Reds have a stronger Minor League system?
-- John S., Merrillville, Ind.
The Reds have spent years playing catch-up in this area. During her tenure, former owner Marge Schott did not place any emphasis on the team's scouting department and the organization had fewer scouts than most clubs. The rosters of former general manager Jim Bowden were shaped more often with "win now" approaches rather than building for later. It's all caught up to the current organization, which has struggled to develop any of its own top-level pitchers lately.
In the past few years, the club has invested more efforts in building from within. During his introductory press conference on Friday, new owner Bob Castellini seemed intent on making scouting and player development an even greater priority. Because identifying talent is not an exact science in baseball, it can often take several years to build up a bountiful farm system -- even when it's a priority for a team.
Why did Ken Griffey, Jr. change his uniform number from No. 30 to No. 3?
-- Harry M., Monongahela, Pa.
The number change was Griffey's way to honor his three children. All of them wear No. 3 as well in their various athletic endeavors.
Why are the Reds not trying to sign their best players to multiyear contracts? Each year it seems the Reds are facing arbitration and therefore tender one-year contracts. Why not sign players like Adam Dunn and Felipe Lopez to multiyear deals and not have to worry about arbitration in the future?
-- Sean S., Chicago
I don't know that the Reds are necessarily not trying to sign them, but much of these issues ultimately come down to leverage. During pre-arbitration and somewhat during arbitration years, the club holds most of it and is under no obligation to offer more than it has to. As the player inches closer to his free agent years, he earns more and more of the leverage.
If Lopez, Dunn or any hypothetical arbitration-eligible player were signed long-term, they might be giving up increased future market value and years of would-be free agency in exchange for multiyear security. That's something that often causes a player, and his agent, to hesitate doing, especially if they believe they are poised for bigger and better seasons ahead.
Arbitration is considered a process that neither a club nor player enjoy going through. Signing a one-year deal to avoid it, sometimes at a figure between the exchanged salary offers, is just a way to get past it.
Is Miguel Perez likely the first catcher to get called up if something happens to Jason LaRue or Javier Valentin?
-- Brad S., Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
Perez, who began the 2005 season in Class A before eventually playing in a couple of games in the big leagues, is probably behind fellow prospect Dane Sardinha in the pecking order of catchers. Perez was promoted to Triple-A, and later the Majors, because Sardinha was injured.