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SportsThe Schmuck Stops Here

Orioles right to be careful, wrong to be this vulnerable

Grant BalfourJim JohnsonRyan WebbTroy PattonTommy HunterFernando Rodney

If you view the attempt to complete a deal with veteran closer Grant Balfour totally in its own context, there’s no way to fault the Orioles for balking at the results of his physical and pulling out of the two-year contract that was agreed upon by both sides pending the medical examination.

That’s just how this kind of thing works. The Orioles have long required extensive physicals for the free agents they sign, and they cannot afford to spend $15 million on a guy who has a higher chance than normal of not being able to fulfill that contract. Sure, we don’t know exactly what worried them about what sources said was Balfour’s shoulder, but they have every right to expect a clean bill of health before guaranteeing all that salary.

They also have a right to expect some raised eyebrows, but only because they put themselves in this vulnerable situation when they dealt Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics earlier this month and waited until this week to make their move to replace him. They have long had a habit of letting the offseason play out before getting seriously involved, a strategy that has saved them a lot of money but also illustrates a reluctance to compete for the best players on the free-agent market.

They came into this offseason needing to add a starting pitcher and a consistent hitter to add more on-base potential to their power-packed lineup. Nearly three months later, they have not addressed any of those needs in a meaningful fashion.

Sure, Dan Duquette has stacked up a lot of warm bodies. He has brought in a number of players who might suddenly step up to fill those roles, but the Orioles have fewer proven major league players than they did when the 2013 season ended with them six games out of a playoff spot.

The Balfour deal -- if it had passed medical muster -- would have validated the trade of Johnson because the Orioles would have gotten a very good closer at a better price and could then have made the case that the acquisition of both a closer and setup man Ryan Webb made the bullpen better than before.

Now, with most of the top free-agent closers already signed, the Orioles are believed to be interested in veteran Fernando Rodney, but they could also take a chance on a high-upside reliever who is coming off an injury if they can reach a deal that balances the risk and possible reward. Failing that, they can always move Tommy Hunter into the role or give Webb a chance to win the role.

Duquette indicated in a Friday conference call that he would continue to look outside the organization for a proven closer, which could come from the free-agent market or in a trade.

The bullpen took another hit on Friday when left-hander Troy Patton was suspended for 25 games at the start of next season for testing positive for amphetamine use, but Duquette also said Friday that the team still feels comfortable with its left-handed depth.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Grant BalfourJim JohnsonRyan WebbTroy PattonTommy HunterFernando Rodney
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