News has been circulating that the two year $15 million dollar deal the Orioles had in place with closer Grant Balfour could be in danger of being null and void.
Balfour has had Tommy John surgery in the past and at the same time had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. The Orioles; and more to the point Peter Angelos, are very particular about medical reports. In the past deals for players like Xavier Hernandez, Aaron Sele, and Jeremy Burnitz have come undone at the last minute due to something coming up in a physical. Burnitz was even frustrated with the scope of the physical the Orioles made him go through. There is precedent for a deal falling through.
At this point there doesn’t seem to be any clear cut news on how severe this item that came up is or what the Orioles intend to do with it. Balfour has obviously been fine and a very durable pitcher over the last few seasons having tossed 55 innings or more from 2008-13 so there really should minimal concern over his ability to pitch.
Many people might look at this as no big deal, but to the Orioles this could be huge in a number of ways. First of all there is the on field aspect. If you have your sure-shot closer going down in the middle of a season where you are otherwise very competitive, that could spell disaster. Secondly, there is the financial stakes. Spending roughly $7.5 million dollars on any player and not getting a return on that money could have been money spent elsewhere on another player or two.
The “issue being resolved” comment could be an indication that the Orioles may want to restructure their deal or get some wording included to help with insurance of the contract. It is a common practice now for teams to insure their marque players contracts so that if something should happen, they do get some reimbursement. Case in point The Albert Belle contract. It was an albatross for a couple of seasons, but the Orioles were getting paid 33% of his contract back via insurance.
The remaining options on the free agent market at this point for closers does not look fantastic. Rather than the Orioles going out and spending big money on an iffy closer, I think they should save their resources and turn to in house options. If at midway through the season you are in contention, you look around to see if anyone is shopping a closer in a trade. The Orioles do have some candidates in house from starter Bud Norris, former starter turned reliever Tommy Hunter, and recently acquired Ryan Webb.