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Rays sign All-Star Balfour to two-year contract

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-The Tampa Bay Rays have signed free agent right-handed relief pitcher Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12 million contract. The 2013 American League All-Star returns to the team where he spent three and a half seasons, from 2007-10. In addition, he will contribute to the Rays Baseball Foundation over the life of the deal.

Balfour, 36, is 62-for-67 (92.5 percent) in save opportunities over the last two seasons as the closer for the Oakland Athletics, fourth-best percentage in the majors during that time behind Huston Street, Joe Nathan and Craig Kimbrel. Included during that two-year run was a streak of 44 consecutive saves, an A's franchise record and the sixth-longest save streak in major league history. In 2013, he went 1-3 with a career-high 38 saves in 41 opportunities, a 2.59 ERA (62.2-IP, 18-ER) and 72 strikeouts in 65 appearances. He ranked sixth in the AL in saves and fourth with a 92.7 save percentage, which was the highest by an A's closer since Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley (94.4) in 1992.

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Balfour was named to his first All-Star Team in 2013 after recording a 1.63 ERA and going 25-for-25 in save opportunities in the first half of the season. He worked a scoreless sixth inning at Citi Field in the AL's 3-0 victory, and entered to relieve Rays lefthander Matt Moore. 

Over the last four seasons (2010 with Tampa Bay, 2011-13 with Oakland), Balfour has recorded a 2.59 ERA or lower each season, with a combined 2.47 mark. Over the past six seasons (2008-13), he ranks second among all AL relievers in appearances (383), innings pitched (380.1) and strikeouts (410) and fourth in opponents' batting average (.194). His 203 appearances for the Rays rank eighth in club history. 

A veteran of 10 major league seasons, Balfour has allowed only 6.74 hits per nine innings in his career, fifth lowest among all active relievers (min. 300 appearances). He has reached the postseason five times: 2004 with the Minnesota Twins, 2008 and 2010 with the Rays, and 2012-13 with Oakland.

The Sydney-born Balfour is the first Australian pitcher to make an All-Star Game and stands as the country's all-time leader with 514 strikeouts and 72 saves. He ranks second in appearances (463) and wins (28) behind Graeme Lloyd (568 appearances, 30 wins). He resides in Clearwater, Fla.

This month, the Rays have awarded two of the three largest free agent contracts given by the current ownership group led by Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg: Balfour and first baseman James Loney, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract on January 3.

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