By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:45 AM EST, December 18, 2013
The Orioles have drawn plenty of criticism this offseason for staying idle while division rivals participated in a heavy hot-stove spending spree, but their patience has landed something positive in closer Grant Balfour.
Balfour and the Orioles agreed on a two-year, $15 million deal Tuesday, pending a physical, that will fill the void left when the club traded closer Jim Johnson earlier this month.
Earlier this offseason, the Orioles allowed themselves to get priced out on free agents like Nate McLouth and Scott Feldman, who ended up signing lucrative deals elsewhere.
But with Balfour, they held firm. Even though the veteran right-hander wanted three guaranteed years, the Orioles stuck to their two-year offer.
And for once this offseason, a key free agent saw Baltimore as an intriguing place to play. It’s believed that Balfour turned down a lengthier offer from another club to sign with the Orioles.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette remained confident that the Orioles would be able to sign a quality closer to replace Johnson. He repeatedly said that there were more free-agent closers than closing jobs available.
And as the reliever market -- which has seen middle relievers like Boone Logan and Joe Smith receive lucrative three-year deals -- began to settle, Balfour came back to the Orioles.
And now, what will the Orioles do with the $10 million projected for Johnson through the arbitration process? It will go to pay for Balfour ($7.5 million) and recently signed reliever Ryan Webb ($2.25 million) with change to spare.
I’m not sure that’s what fans necessarily had in mind when Duquette said the trade of Johnson was needed for a “reallocation of resources,” but it could end up being some smart spending when all is said and done.
But the key to the Balfour deal is that the Orioles didn’t give in to a third guaranteed year. Balfour will be 36 when he reports to spring training in February, and recent three-year deals given to relievers haven't ended well.
Bloomberg Sports issued a report recently looking at the recent trend of overspending on relievers, specifially dealing with the 11 contracts of three years or more given to relievers since 2010.
Using WAR to determine actual monetary worth, only two of those deals so far -- Jesse Crain’s just-completed three-year deal signed with the Chicago White Sox before the 2011 season and Randy Choate’s three-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals signed before the 2013 season -- have ended up giving the signing teams positive monetary gains.
So signing a reliever to a three-year deal obviously is a risk, and the Orioles were wise to stand firm with their two-year offer.
-- The Orioles seemed to be a little surprised to hear the news that Brian Roberts signed so quickly with the New York Yankees this week.
According to a couple of team sources, the Orioles touched base with Roberts’ representatives last week. The impression they received was that Roberts wanted to pursue a few conversations with others teams, but that nothing was imminent.
Maybe things moved quickly with the Yankees, but the Orioles were obviously not aggressive enough to re-sign Roberts.
It will be weird to see Roberts in another uniform, but maybe a change of scenery will help him. The Yankees have a few options at second base, among them Roberts and Kelly Johnson, who could also fill in at third base if Alex Rodriguez misses time.
But with Roberts gone, the Orioles can now definitively move on and, if they choose, finally see if Ryan Flaherty can be the everyday player they believe he can be. They will also get a look at Jemile Weeks, who came over from Oakland in the trade for Johnson.
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