The Baltimore Orioles have come under a heap of criticism by the entire baseball world for backing out of two deals with major league free agents after the results of each players’ physical examination. Closer Grant Balfour and outfielder Tyler Colvin where each turned away from the Orioles after the team’s medical staff found issues causing the team to renege reported offers to both players.
Balfour’s situation with the Orioles has come under particular scrutiny after the fiery Australian reliever signed a two year, $12 million deal with the Orioles’ division rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays’ team physician, Dr. Koco Eaton, publicly criticized the Orioles after the Balfour deal fell through and make these comments to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal:
“I would say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that his shoulder would not be a problem going forward any more than it was a problem over the past three years,” Eaton said. “And there was no problem over the past three years.”
Former Orioles’ starter Jeremy Guthrie tweeted this tongue-in-cheek comment:
@TheRealJGuts: Don’t discount the fact that I passed 5 Orioles physicals. #CareerAccomplishments
Despite the criticism, I believe that it’s a good thing that the Orioles have an evidently tough evaluation process before they sign free agents. For a small-market team like the Orioles that already struggles to compete in the free agency market with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees of the world, it would be crippling to waste money on a FA contract for an injured player.
If the Orioles’ medical staff truly believes that the risk is too great for Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin, then I fully support the Orioles listening to their guys. These doctors are paid for a reason, and the Orioles have invested heavily in understanding the biomechanical processes behind baseball actions. If the Orioles believe they have the technology and know-how to properly evaluate these players, they have to use it, and they have to make decisions using the information gained.
The only regret I have, and I’m sure the Orioles have, was the way that these situations played out in the public eye. Balfour’s deal was especially nasty, as the reliever still plans to file a grievance against the Orioles — though he hasn’t specified for what, exactly.
But now, put yourself in an agent’s shoes. If you are representing an aging player or a player with a history of injury, why would you even take your client to the Orioles and risk completely devaluing him through the team’s physical evaluation? A negative physical can drastically affect the amount of money your client is worth on the open market.
Both of the players that the Orioles rejected this off-season saw a reduction in their market. After originally agreeing with Baltimore on a two-year deal worth $15 million, Balfour signed with the Rays for $3 million less. Reportedly, Colvin originally agreed to terms with the Orioles on a major league contract. After his physical, he is still unsigned and may not receive another major league offer.
Baltimore was just beginning to rebuild its reputation as a place that free agents want to sign. There are a lot of things going for this team including a beautiful ballpark, a load of young talent, a player friendly manager, and a resurgent fanbase. However, if players risk their very livelihood by taking a physical with the Orioles, it’s enough for potential free agents to have second thoughts about considering Baltimore as their destination.
For a place that historically had trouble luring in top free agents, the Orioles’ physical process is the latest potential deterrent for the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana, or any other starting pitcher the team hopes to bring in this year. Let’s hope these guys are confident enough in their bodies to put themselves through Baltimore’s gauntlet. And if they are, let’s hope they pass, because another failed physical would cement Baltimore’s label as the place contracts and big free agent paydays go to die.