Baltimore Orioles: Revisiting the Grant Balfour situation


We all recall the Grant Balfour incident last off season regarding the Baltimore Orioles. So I’ll spare you by writing a short or long play-by-play of what happened. If you don’t know, look it up in the archives of this column; we gave it a lot of play back in December and January. The Orioles were talked about very harshly for quite some time when the Balfour contract was rescinded. Balfour himself even said that he was considering a grievance with the players association.

In fact, many fans wrote into this very column claiming that this was another reason why the Orioles would never win – because owner Peter Angelos absolutely had to have stepped in and nixed the deal because he didn’t want to spend the $15 million. My point at the time was that when a contract negotiation gets to the point of extending an offer (contingent on a physical), ownership has already signed off on spending the money. Several readers even argued that Angelos had to have told those doctors to fail Balfour on the physical, to which my response was that any doctor who would do something like that would be in legal jeapardy and guilty of medical malpractice.

Balfour of course ended up signing with Tampa, and you’ll recall that there was even some anticipation of Balfour shutting down the Orioles in games. Because after all, he was the one that was wronged, correct?! Ultimately, the Orioles took the advice of three different doctors who saw Balfour’s physical results, one of whom had no affiliation with the team. And at the end of the day, I think Buck Showalter still resents the comments made by Tampa’s Dr. Koko Eaton (a personal friend of Balfour’s) in the wake of the situation.

Courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

But the fact of the matter is that Balfour struggled in 2014 with Tampa. He had an ERA of 4.91 at the end of the season, which isn’t good for a reliever. Balfour was courted by the Orioles to be their closer, a role that eventually ended up with Zach Britton (by way of Tommy Hunter). He signed with Tampa to play in the same capacity, and was demoted from the closer role in June. He struggled for the rest of the way through the season, and as I said above finished with an ERA of 4.91. When you look at the Orioles’ bullpen in 2014, how does one think that would have played?

It’s tough to say what would have happened had Balfour played in Baltimore. However that’s the only manner in which we can judge how he would have performed with the Orioles. One thing is certain; Balfour, his “people,” and the national media were all over the Orioles in the wake of that situation. There were a few days near Christmas last year where it kind of resembled a smear campaign. Between the aforementioned Dr. Eaton and a few well-respected national pundits, it seemed that the Orioles had to be in the wrong simply by default.

So with the 2014 season now in the rearview mirror, what can be said about the Orioles’ decision now? Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette would probably say that they’re more concerned with the guys on the Orioles now as opposed to that. However Balfour’s results along with those of the 2014 AL East Champion Orioles do seem to vindicate the organization’s actions in this situation.

Yet I don’t see too many of those pundits who threw the O’s under the bus simply by default back-peddaling on their stances or their words. Speaking of words, Dr. Eaton hasn’t publicly eaten his either. In fairness, the Orioles did have a history of being overly critical on physicals. However I can’t blame the for that given the fact that we’re talking about huge investments; do they not hold a fiduciary responsibility to themselves and to ownership to ensure that the money’s being spent wisely?

It’s also worth pointing out that the organization had been burned fairly recently on the contracts of Tsuyoshi Wada and even Brian Roberts. Wada (now a Chicago Cub) was techincally an Oriole for two years, but never played in a game due to injuries. So it’s with good reason that they’re cautious on these matters. And you can even look at the situation of Johan Santana, who injured his knee in his final extended spring game before presumably coming up to play with the Orioles this past year. These things happen, but again that’s why you need to be cautious.

I’m not sure why anyone should be surprised that the national media hasn’t rushed to exconerate the Birds in this case. Ultimately it might be fair to say that everyone has moved on – incuding Balfour, who I’m sure is hoping for better results in 2015. But when an organization is hung out to dry in the manner that the Orioles were nationally for doing what ended up being the right thing, I do find it ironic that nobody short of myself is jumping up and down to say that they got this one right.