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Unfortunate situation for Orioles, Grant Balfour with deal in limbo due to shoulder issue

Today was supposed to be a day of celebration at The Warehouse, with the Orioles ushering in their new closer, Grant Balfour, who agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal earlier this week.

But the news conference won’t happen. The deal is teetering and likely to collapse -- or, at the very least, change dramatically -- because of an issue with Balfour’s right shoulder found during his physical, according to industry sources.

Because the Orioles in the past have had issues with agreed-to deals once they get to the physical stage -- Aaron Sele, Xavier Hernandez, and, just last year, Jair Jurrjens, to name a few -- there’s going to be an underlying sense that this is the Orioles’ fault.

No question that the Orioles are particularly stringent about the medical results from their physicals, which have the reputation of being exceptionally thorough. (In one of the greatest lines ever shared with me, one former Orioles player, after signing a deal and going through an intense examination, told me he thought the club was going to ask him to go to Pimlico Race Course and run 6 furlongs.)

But until a contract is signed, it is the Orioles’ prerogative to back away if they are concerned about medical issues. Ultimately, these are major investments, and if there’s something they don’t like, they can pass on the player.

The Orioles aren’t one of those teams that can spend a lot of money on a player who doesn’t play and not feel it eventually. Their pockets and farm system aren’t deep enough to withstand several blows like that to the payroll.

Still, this is an unfortunate situation all around. The Orioles may have to look for another free-agent closer, and Balfour was the best on the market, in my opinion.

And you have to wonder what happens with Balfour if the Orioles back away here. He’ll be 36 on Dec. 30. Closer availability is thin enough that some team will gladly take him, but it’s possible that he’s lost some significant cash if clubs can play the “damaged goods” card now. That’d be a real shame for a guy who has worked his butt off to get where he is.

This will be another cautionary tale. I can’t tell you how many agents and executives I’ve talked to over the past few years who have said they absolutely wouldn’t reveal a deal or terms involved until a physical is passed because too much is at risk. And yet, I can’t remember the last time a free-agent contract was signed without this kind of information being gleaned and reported before the physical. Just doesn’t happen anymore in this constant media world.

And so, when a scheduled news conference is put on hold, the first thought is that there is something physically wrong with the player. And it can only get worse from there.

It’s been that kind of offseason for the Orioles. Just when they were about to usher in some positive light, someone flicked off the switch. But if you want a silver lining, it is this: better to learn of potential problems now than in April.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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