Orioles appear to believe Balfour is too much of a risk to warrant $15 million

Closer Grant Balfour, shown during an Oakland Athletics game against the Los Angeles Angels last September, is again a free agent.

The soap opera between the Orioles and Grant Balfour gets weirder by the day.

How's his shoulder? Is it healthy? Is it not? He did have major surgery on it back in 2005, but he's never missed time because of his shoulder since. Where's the truth? That depends on who you ask.


The latest turn came Friday night when Balfour, a closer known for not backing down on the mound, called Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette to get in the last word, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I called Dan Duquette and told him, ‘I’ve played in this league for 10 years,’” Balfour told the Chronicle. “’I deserve to be treated with respect, and you did not treat me with respect. Two well-respected physicians said I am completely healthy because I am healthy. I’m a fighter and a winner and I would have given you your best chance to win.

"I was looking forward to pitching for the Orioles and helping them to go to the World Series, where they haven't been for 30 years. I wanted to help them as a team."


Balfour is known for adding some colorful words when he gets heated on the mound. Remember his exchange with Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez in last season's ALDS? I hope he kept it clean with Duquette.

The fact that Balfour would call Duquette to tell him he made a mistake is unheard of. But there's seems to be a new twist at every turn in this story.

How did we all get to this point? Just two days ago, the Orioles were planning a news conference at the Warehouse, where Balfour was going to smile for cameras.

Now we're entrenched in a situation in which there really are no winners.

Here's what we know: Orioles team doctors had enough concern with Balfour's physical, specifically his right shoulder, for the team to pull its two-year, $15 million offer. Balfour's camp countered with two major league team orthopedists who said the 35-year-old closer's arm is just as healthy as it was several years ago.

Doctors don't get into too many diagnosis fights, and this one isn't as must targeted at Duquette and the Orioles as it is an effort to save Balfour's market value going forward. But both Tampa Bay Rays team orthopedist Koco Eaton, who was Balfour's team doctor for four years and conducted his 2011 physical on behalf of the A's, and Cincinnati Reds medical director and chief orthopedic surgeon Tim Kremchek, who performed elbow and shoulder surgeries on Balfour in 2005, concurred that Balfour's shoulder looked good.

Both team doctors are well respected, as is Orioles team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and team doctor for Naval Academy sports teams. Wilckens and two other team doctors shared concerns over Balfour's shoulder, a source said Friday.

So how do such universally renowned professionals arrive at such different conclusions?


The easy thing to do and most fans already have is blame ownership. The easy thing to say is that managing partner Peter Angelos stepped in at the 11th hour and refused to shell out $15 million for Balfour.

A source told me last night that any perception that the Orioles pulled out of the deal at the last minute and used the physical as an excuse is outlandish. He said Angelos was more than willing to get the deal done as it was agreed upon.

Over the years, many baseball fans in Baltimore have become conspiracy theorists. They have the right to be. When the Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson earlier this month, the Angelos speculation begun anew, even though he publicly disputed having had anything to do with the deal, saying he leaves all baseball operations decisions to Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter.

But this one seems more complicated than that. The funny thing is, based on everything we've heard, this was a deal the Orioles' organization, from top to bottom, was pleased with.

Balfour was the player the Orioles wanted all along. They zeroed in on him to be their closer since dealing Johnson. He was their primary target this offseason. The Orioles were willing to invest $15 million in Balfour, a considerable amount for a team that doesn't spend the way the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox do. The club could have walked away from Balfour at any time, but he was the prize it wanted.

And Balfour seemed to want to pitch for the Orioles. He had better offers on the table, and he wanted three guaranteed years, but at the end of the day, he decided he wanted to pitch in Baltimore, which isn't something desired free-agent pitchers have done often over recent years.

So what gives? It is widely known that the Orioles have exacting standards for their physicals. History has shown as much. $15 million doesn't go as far as it used to, and when the Orioles choose to spend that much, they can't miss.


But there is a difference between being stringent and being skittish.

Having said all that, with the way this drama is playing out, who knows? Maybe Balfour and Duquette will gather around the pitcher's mound at Camden Yards, sing "Kumbaya" and work out the deal at the end of the day.

From what I’ve been told, the Orioles are still interested in Balfour, and one source said he wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually signed with the club once cooler heads — and a cooler free-agent market prevail. Maybe the Orioles test the market and their search ends up back at Balfour.

For now, the Orioles have simply decided that Balfour was too much of a risk as a soon-to-be 36-year-old who would be making $15 million over the next two years with shoulder concerns. He still has plenty of value to them, just not at $15 million.

But with this saga, who knows where it will end?