Desperate for help in their big league bullpen, the Devil Rays chose experience and savvy over a young, power arm, trading righthander Seth McClung to the Brewers for righty Grant Balfour, who had been designated for assignment.
|The Big Leaguer|
|Balfour signed with the Twins out of Australia in 1997 and moved steadily toward the major leagues, reaching Minnesota for the first time in 2001 and having success both in 2003 and 2004 in limited roles. However, Balfour had Tommy John surgery as well as shoulder surgery during 2004 and 2005, and just returned to the majors this spring with the Brewers, who claimed him on waivers from the Reds in the offseason. He pitched very well at Triple-A Nashville (1.69 ERA, 47-11 K-BB ratio in 32 innings) but struggled in three big league appearances before being designated for assignment. Even when at his healthiest, Balfour rarely overpowers, using a fastball in the 87-92 mph range to go with a curveball and slider and the occasional changeup.|
|McClung, 26, technically isn’t a prospect anymore (he has thrown 251 major league innings), but he hasn’t pitched in the majors yet this season, despite success at Triple-A Durham. The Devil Rays have abandoned their experiment to make McClung a starter (37 of his 85 big league appearances have come in that role), using him exclusively in short relief at Durham. He lost his closer’s job there early on but has thrived as a setup man for Chad Orvella. McClung sticks to his hard fastball, usually anywhere from 92-97 mph, and hard curveball in relief. His fastball velocity and command both tend to come and go (hence the range on his fastball radar-gun readings), and he lacks consistent mechanics, leading him to average 6.6 walks/nine innings.|
The Rays have baseball’s worst bullpen–yes, including the White Sox–and seem to have lost faith in pitchers who throw hard but don’t throw quality strikes, such as McClung and Brian Stokes. In Balfour, they get less velocity and an older player but also one less experienced. It might have made more sense to give McClung a big league chance this year before moving him for a player who had been designated for assignment. McClung could make an impact in Milwaukee if Mike Maddux can tap into the talent the Rays never could seem to reach.