Orioles and Dontrelle Willis in a staring contest


One thing that I failed to mention earlier this week while covering the games was the situation between the Orioles and Dontrelle Willis that’s quickly unfolding. In a nutshell, here’s a quick bulletpoint synopsis of what’s happening:

  • The Orioles signed Willis to a minor league deal during spring training and planned to convert the former Rookie of the Year into a left handed specialist in the bullpen
  • Willis reported to triple-A Norfolk and apparently wanted the opprotunity to start
  • Earlier this week Willis left triple-A Norfolk and was placed on the restricted list by the Orioles

Willis, and his agent Matt Sosnick, are contending that Willis was told that if he wasn’t given the opprotunity to start he would be granted his release. They also contend that Willis was told by Orioles’ baseball administration director Tripp Norton that he was being given that release that he was allegedly promised. So when Willis was placed on the Orioles’ restricted list he was a bit surprised; as a result, he’s filing a grievance against the Orioles with major league baseball.

I smell a rat…I really smell a rat. Some of the reaction on message boards from fans that I’ve seen has seemingly been of the opinion that since it’s the Orioles odds are they botched something along the way and Willis is in the right. However based on the facts that we know, I don’t feel that’s the case. Willis may well have been told he’d be released if he couldn’t start…told verbally that is. If it’s not in writing it means nothing, both technically and legally. That’s true in all walks of life and in all businesses. (On a side note, I would hope that the organization wouldn’t make promises that it might not be able to keep long term.) However Willis was apparently not happy about being converted into a reliever. (He even blamed his current arm problems on the Orioles trying to make him pitch out of the bullpen…which I find ridiculous.) However he was told up front that he would be used as a reliever; yet he somehow feels that he’s due a starting role either in Norfolk or Baltimore.

That aside, Willis may well have been told by Tripp Norton that he was free to go. However does Norton have the authority to do that? Generally when teams make personnel moves the GM is the one pulling the strings. Dan Duquette has said on the record that he never released Willis, and from the Orioles’ standpoint Willis didn’t show up for work. (Duquette has also said that if Willis wants to pitch-presumably in relief-the Orioles still have a place for him in the organization.) So somewhere along the way it seems there was either a miscommunication, or something else is amiss.

Here’s the wildcard; there are rumors that Willis has offers to be a starter elsewhere. The question is where? The rumor on top of the rumor is that he has offers in Asia (Japan or South Korea). On that front I would draw people’s attention back to the situation earlier in the year where the Orioles signed a South Korean pitcher. So now there’s the potential that a South Korean team is trying to go after a pitcher that’s literally under contract with the Orioles? Let’s take it a step further; what if there are other major league teams that have contacted Sosnick about Willis’ services? While it’s clear that the Orioles probably have no use for him, he’s still under contract to the organization for 2012. In no way am I accusing another club of doing this, nor is there evidence to say that it’s going on, however the fact is that if another team was to contact an agent about a guy under contract that’s a pretty cut and dry case of tampering.

In my view, perhaps the Orioles shouldn’t have promised that Willis would get his release if he couldn’t start. However to walk away from the team when that didn’t happen is pretty weak on his part. Furthermore, the impression is that Willis is now filing a grievance because he was verbally told something, and/or he was allegedly told by someone in the organization that he was being released. Lesson: don’t believe anything like that until you see it documented on paper. It’s also obvious to me that Willis wants the Orioles to release him, which is why he’s filing the grievance. He’s trying to make himself look repugnant enough so that the O’s won’t want him in the organization. Once he’s released he’d be free to pursue whatever other offers are out there. Here’s the thing; if it’s another MLB team that has interest in him, you then really have a bad situation. If a team has a player in their system that someone else has interest in, they need to try to work out a trade with that team. Again, we don’t know if it’s another big league team; but if it is, someone’s trying to get something for nothing.

Ultimately, my advice to Dan Duquette is to not even think about releasing Willis. That’s exactly what he wants; doing so would prove that if you complain loud enough you can get your way, and that sets a bad precedent. I’d prefer that the Orioles allow him to return to his place in the Norfolk bullpen, with the “threat” that if he causes any more problems he’ll be buried deep in the minors where the blonde sun don’t shine. In expressing that opinion to people the past couple of days, I’ve been asked why I would want the O’s to be an organization that takes hard-line stances with personnel (free agents won’t want to come). More realistically, I want the O’s to be seen as an organization that makes people honor their committments. That’s the lesson Dontrelle Willis needs to be taught.

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