The recent situations involving the Baltimore Orioles and Grant Balfour & Tyler Colvin have Birdland abuzz. There are all kinds of opinions out there, from the idea that ownership doesn’t want to pay people to the Vulcan-like logic that says the doctors are right (and yes that was a tip of the cap to Mr. Spock!). However needless to say, the varying thoughts out there among the Orioles’ fan base shows the passion that people have for this team. Ultimately we’ll probably never know what either players’ physical said, however I just don’t feel that it’s prudent or fair to simply assume that the Orioles are the party that’s in the wrong here. When you’re involving the professional opinions of doctors, you owe it to them to heed their words.
One point that’s come up a lot is that the Orioles seem so concerned over these physicals, yet they seemingly had no problem keeping Brian Roberts on the roster through his various injury problems. Consequently, the same is still true with Nolan Reimold. I’ll grant the fact that these two extremes might well send some mixed signals…on the outside that is. So do the fans who continually bring that point up have Dan Duquette in a classic gotcha type of situation? Do these two extremes prove that the people in the Warehouse really don’t know what they’re doing?
I would recommend that people revert back to the aforementioned “Vulcan logic” of Mr. Spock as opposed to getting overly emotional about this. The answer actually lies in the facts of the two very different situations. In the cases of both Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin (who I remind you still could land with the Orioles) we had free agents in whom the Orioles were interested. However no contract in sports is consummated until the player has taken a physical and the doctors have declared him fit to fulfill the term of the contract. Therein of course lies the problem in both cases.
However in the cases of Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, you have players who were/are under contract with the O’s. Whether the Orioles liked it or not, both players were on the payroll and would remain there until their contracts were up (which of course in Roberts’ case was the end of last season). The Orioles really had no choice in whether or not they paid those players, or whether they were literally flushing their money down the toilet. It really didn’t matter, because those players were on the payroll per their contracts. Whether or not either would have passed a physical based on the requirements that the organization seems to have for free agents is another story, but ultimately the O’s had no choice but to pay them.
The next comment in the line of grievances I often hear with regard to this is that the Orioles could have just cut either or both player and have been done with them and their injuries. The Orioles certainly could have done just that, and not had to worry about whether or not Roberts or Reimold would ever be back. In football, that’s probably would have happened. But one of the bigger fundamental differences between the NFL and MLB (on the business side) is that baseball players’ contracts are guaranteed. Football players’ are not, so NFL teams can simply cut someone whenever they want and they don’t have to pay them. (However keep in mind that the player’s contract still counts against the salary cap, and potentially at an accelerated rate.) In baseball a team can release a player who’s under contract and remove him from their roster, however that player is still on the payroll for the term of his contract.
In other words, if the Orioles had released Roberts he then would have been a free agent who could be picked up by any other team – while remaining on the Orioles’ payroll. So if another team picked him up and he started playing for them, he STILL would have been drawing his salary from the O’s. Last season the New York Yankees signed Vernon Wells who had been released by the Anaheim Angels. You can look at that as a total no-risk move by the Yankees given that had Wells not worked out for them it wouldn’t have cost them a dime. (And go figure…when the Angels played the Yankees, Anaheim was literally paying Wells to play against them.)
So teams are naturally going to do everything they can to keep guys that are already part of their organization given the fact that cutting a player for whatever reason would indicate total failure on the part of the organization. And that player’s salary would in theory turn into dead money. This is not to say that Balfour’s and Colvin’s physicals were or were not scrutinized rightly or wrongly, because that’s not something we can really know right now. However the act of not signing a player for a medical reason doesn’t become the wrong thing simply because the Orioles didn’t cut two of their own players who had injury problems. To further that point, the Orioles at various times were also paid insurance money on Roberts’ contract during some of his long DL stints. If they had cut him they wouldn’t have collected that money, and there would have been a good chance that they would have seen Roberts playing against them at some point while still on their payroll.