Baltimore Orioles' Botched Grant Balfour Deal Will Hurt Future Free Agent Signings

By James Williams
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Orioles took a pass on free agent relief pitcher Grant Balfour. The team’s medical staff felt that the 36-year-old pitcher’s arm might be too much of a risk for the team to take. So, he failed his physical and the Orioles took their two-year, $15 million offer off the table. Balfour and his agent were angry, and free agents around MLB took note of the way that the entire deal was handled.

First, I should make it clear that the Orioles’ medical staff is one of the tops in all professional sports. The team sets one of the highest standards for passing a physical in all of baseball. So, the Orioles have the right to back out of any deal they wish if the medical staff’s findings makes the front office feel that the risk of signing the player outweighs the reward.

But if the Orioles are going to hold players to such a high standard, then they will need to handle thing better than they did in the Balfour case. Rather than scheduling a press conference, having a jersey ready and making such a big deal of the signing a player, perhaps they should make sure the physical yielded no complications first.

Baltimore made such a big deal out of adding Balfour that when things began to come apart, there no easy, clean or graceful way out for either the Orioles or the star of the show that never happened.

Almost any 36-year-old pitcher’s arm is going to look worn in an MRI and through X-Rays, but how bad did the pictures really look? Well, clearly bad enough that Baltimore backed out of the deal in the best interest of the team.

However, I feel that the Balfour non-signing is going to really hurt the Orioles going forward because how the player came off looking in this deal. As you might expect, about two hours after the Orioles cancelled first the press conference and then the deal, GM Dan Duquette was already getting unhappy calls from Balfour and his agent. The pitcher then sought second opinions from the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays‘ team physicians, both of whom backed him up.

The trade of All-Star closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics is starting to look like a real mistake, considering that the real reason of doing the deal was to save money and find someone who replace him at a more team-friendly price.

This mess will cost the Orioles free agents in the future, and it could cost them Fernando Rodney right now. He is talking to both the Orioles and Seattle Mariners. The former Rays closer is reportedly seeking a two-year, $20 million deal, and if he were to be willing to come down a bit, it is unlikely that Baltimore will get him for the same two-year $15 million deal that they offered Balfour.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Los Angeles Dodgers are very close to a deal with former Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez. So if Baltimore does not land Rodney, they will likely have to seek help from inside the organization, and Tommy Hunter seems to be the top candidate for the role.

We won’t know until this season if the Orioles passing on Balfour was a good move or if they were being overcautious. Here is what we do know: Baltimore, who already has problems signing free agents, are going to find that some pitchers are not going to want to take a chance on testing their doctors out.

For a team that does not overspend that could make things, tough in the future.

Rant Sports columnist James Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award winning producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Wordmandc and add him to your Google circles.

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