Baltimore Orioles History: The Jeromy Burnitz Deal That Didn’t Happen
By Nick Stevens
On this day in Baltimore Orioles history, Jeromy Burnitz was supposed to be an Oriole.
Over the years, the Baltimore Orioles have received a reputation of having a very high standard when it comes to passing physicals, and the long list of free agent deals which failed to materialize due to a failed physical gives credibility to the reputation and jokes that creep up every offseason.
In fact, it was on this day in 2005 when one of those free agent deals was reportedly agreed upon, only to have nothing but a war of words ensue and a 36-year-old outfielder named Jeromy Burnitz finding another place to call home for the 2006 season.
After a respectable six seasons in Milwaukee where Burnitz hit 165 home runs and produced an OPS of .870, the one-time All-Star found himself bouncing around from the New York Mets to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, and Chicago Cubs where he continued to do two things well, get on base and mash home runs.
It was in Chicago back in 2005 where Burnitz saw his production begin to slow. Despite his 31 doubles and 24 home runs, Burnitz saw his batting average drop 25 points and his OPS drop by 159 points as he entered free agency looking for a home to play his age-37 season.
The Orioles assumed they had signed Burnitz to a two-year deal worth $12 million on December 28th of 2005, only to see him sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a one-year deal worth around $6 million with a mutual option for 2007.
From ESPN.com, it was the language about physicals in the proposed contract that steered Burnitz away from Baltimore.
"Burnitz never took the physical called for in that agreement.Burnitz’s agent, Howard Simon, said that language regarding thephysical resulted in the breakdown of Baltimore’s deal.“There was harsh, intimidating language that appears to be verysubjective and open-ended. … The club almost has the right to dowhatever it wants, at its option,” Simon said. “That’s howcomplicated the language is. The other clubs simply have one linethat states it is subject to the player passing a physical. That’swhat Pittsburgh’s document has.”"
That wasn’t what Orioles leadership believed led to Burnitz backing out of the deal, which led to an exchanging of words between O’s brass and Howard Simon (the agent for Burnitz) who said this was a “Baltimore problem.”
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But is it a “Baltimore problem”? Both Steve Martano of Beyond The Box Score and Jeff Sullivan, formerly of Fangraphs, have written about this in the past, showing a long list of unfinished or altered free agent contracts due to physicals, most working out in favor of the Orioles, like pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Jair Jurrjens, and Grant Balfour.
There’s no denying that the Orioles have a history of being a little tougher when it comes to physicals, but when you’re investing millions of dollars into a player, shouldn’t your research be thorough?
As for the Burnitz deal, it turns out that this failed move was a positive for the Baltimore Orioles. Burnitz played just one season in Pittsburgh, hitting .230 with a .289 OBP and 16 home runs in 111 games before retiring.
I don’t think we have to worry about any of these dust-ups this offseason, considering the lack of free agent activity expected in Birdland this winter.