In a move that likely left Jon Heyman a little surprised, Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin announced to the media today that Grant Balfour will open the season as the team's closer. Balfour was one of the co-favorites alongside Brian Fuentes heading into spring training and actually struggled in most of his outings. However, Melvin would appear to be most comfortable with Balfour coming into games in the ninth inning.
Balfour has made six appearances in March, giving up five runs in 5 2/3 innings of work. He served primarily as a set-up man to Andrew Bailey and Brian Fuentes in 2011, finishing the season with a 3.57 ERA in 62 innings of work. His previous career high in saves was four in 2008 and four in 2009, so this will be his first long look as a closer.
Brian Fuentes was a co-favorite in part because the A's would ideally like to build up his value and eventually trade him away. The same could hold true for Balfour as well. Although Balfour has been a very solid pitcher for the A's, his veteran status prevents him from being a long term option whenever the A's get their stadium situation figured out.
In a related note, Fautino De Los Santos is considered by most to be the A's closer of the future. He has put together a solid spring giving up one earned run in 5 1/3 innings. He will likely start the season as the right-handed set-up man while Fuentes will operate as the left-handed set-up man. If DLS is not the closer by August, it might be a minor upset.