Balfour signs one-year deal with Rays

Balfour signs one-year deal with Rays

The offseason is still relatively young, but Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman is making one point very clear: Stabilizing the bullpen is a top priority.

During an unsuccessful American League title defense in 2009, Tampa Bay's relief corps finished in the middle of the pack in the league in ERA and was tied for third in blown saves. But in the past three days, Friedman has brought in a pricey closer and locked up three of his own solid relievers for next season.

It started with officially trading for closer Rafael Soriano on Friday, then signing him to a $7.25 million deal. It continued with re-signing Lance Cormier and Randy Choate before Saturday night's non-tender deadline, then ensued with the news Sunday that the Rays have locked up right-hander Grant Balfour for next season, too.

With the Soriano signing, Tampa Bay's payroll for next season could exceed $70 million, but that didn't stop the club from avoiding arbitration with yet another player, agreeing on a $2.05 million contract with Balfour, who made $1.4 million in '09.

That brings the Rays' list of arbitration-eligible players to five -- catcher Kelly Shoppach, right-hander Matt Garza, lefty J.P. Howell, center fielder B.J. Upton and shortstop Jason Bartlett.

The Australian-born Balfour is coming off a down year this past season, when he went 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 73 relief appearances, striking out 69 and walking 33 in 67 1/3 innings.

In his first full season with the Rays in '08, Balfour notched a slim 1.54 ERA in 51 games. For his six-year career, the 31-year-old sports a 4.20 ERA and eight saves -- four each coming the previous two seasons in Tampa Bay.

On Saturday, the Rays signed Cormier for $1.2 million and Choate for $700,000.

The sidearm-throwing Choate appeared in 61 games out of the bullpen for the Rays, going 1-0 and posting a 3.47 ERA while opposing left-handed batters hit just .141 against him. Recently, the Rays let southpaw Brian Shouse hit free agency, so the 34-year-old Choate looks to be their primary lefty specialist for next season.

Cormier, 29, went 3-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 53 relief appearances while leading Rays relievers in innings with 77 1/3. In six seasons in the big leagues, Cormier is 20-24 with a 5.08 ERA.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.