Balfour saga makes for sad day in Birdland

Balfour saga makes for sad day in Birdland
December 21, 2013, 9:00 am
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Friday was an awful day for the Orioles. How bad was it? The news of Troy Patton’s suspension, which normally would have occupied Birdland, was pushed aside by Balfourgate.

Until October, Balfour was a relatively anonymous relief pitcher. A late bloomer, a first-time 34-year-old closer, Balfour accumulated 62 saves in the last two years for Oakland.

During the Athletics’ divisional series against Detroit, Balfour screamed at the Tigers’ Victor Martinez, challenging him with some expletives.

After Dan Duquette’s conference call on Friday afternoon, the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations received one from the man who hoped to close for the Orioles next season.

According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Balfour told Duquette the Orioles were mistaken in not completing the two-year, $15 million deal.

“I called Dan Duquette and told him, “I’ve played in this league for 10 years, 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,” Balfour continued. “I wanted to help them as a team.”

Duquette refused to publicly specify the reason the Orioles didn’t complete the deal, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.

[RELATED: Balfour says his shoulder is fine]

The Orioles had three physicians examine Balfour’s records and there were concerns that he wouldn’t last the two years without breaking down.

The Orioles can’t say that, and it was somewhat surprising that the Rays’ team physician would publicly dispute another team’s findings.

Balfour was the Orioles’ choice to replace Jim Johnson, who they thought was out of their budget range. They could get two years of Balfour while Johnson was going to be elsewhere after 2014.

Now, the Orioles will look at Fernando Rodney, the erstwhile Tampa Bay closer. They won’t sign him if he wants Johnson-type money and will if he’ll agree to a deal close to Balfour’s.

Balfour is considering filing a grievance against the Orioles. One of the questions he would have been asked at Friday’s scrubbed news conference was why he supposedly turn down a longer offer elsewhere to sign with the Orioles.

He’ll try to get that better offer now, and hope that another team isn’t scared off by the Orioles’ refusal to sign him.

The Orioles badly wanted to sign Balfour, and it’s silly to think they were looking for a reason not to. It would have been much easier to ignore their doctor’s recommendations, which were confidential, sign him and hope Balfour would be effective for two years.

Yes, the Orioles are known for stricter medical exams than other teams. As Duquette said on Saturday, the procedures vary from team to team and from doctor to doctor, but it’s not as if Balfour’s voiding is a common procedure.

Many have cited the team’s voiding an agreement with Aaron Sele, but that was nearly 14 years ago. In those 14 years, the Orioles have had countless physical exams and agreed on contracts with big names and small ones alike.

Whenever a player is signed as a free agent or even signs an extension with the team, the team conducts a physical exam. Rarely do they turn out to be anything but formalities.

Duquette would have much rather been presiding over a news conference with his news closer than telling reporters the team was moving on. Buck Showalter would have preferred getting to know his closer than sitting in on meetings. And, Balfour could have charmed the Baltimore media with his Australian accent.

Balfourgate isn’t over yet. During the season, he’ll be watched closely. So will Johnson and whoever his eventual successor will be.

And yes, the Orioles will go for the first 25 games without Troy Patton, who tested positive for amphetamines. The Balfour show pushed Patton aside for now.

And what a show it was.