Balfour's deal with Orioles falls through

Balfour's deal with Orioles falls through
December 20, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Grant Balfour saved 38 games last season, but also struggled in August and early September with the A's. (USATSI)

You might have caught the news coming out of Baltimore that Grant Balfour’s two-year contract agreement with the Orioles has fallen through because of problems regarding his physical.

Balfour, the former A’s closer, agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract Tuesday, but the Baltimore Sun reported that his physical revealed concerns with his right shoulder. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette told reporters Friday that the team won’t sign Balfour and will re-explore its closer options.

Back in 2006, Balfour had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in the shoulder, sidelining him for all of that season. That came after he missed the entire 2005 season following reconstructive elbow surgery. But he hadn’t been sidelined by any shoulder issue since 2006, and he was a workhorse out of the A’s bullpen for the past three seasons, averaging 67 appearances per year.

The first thought that pops to mind, of course, is that the A’s made the wise move in not trying to re-sign Balfour as a free agent this offseason. The second thought: Did the team know of any physical issues with Balfour that made it an easier decision to cut ties?

That’s tough to decipher. By the end of last season, Balfour seemed as done with the A’s as the team was with him. After Oakland was eliminated from the ALDS by Detroit, Balfour all but acknowledged that he wouldn’t be back. He expressed how much he enjoyed playing for Oakland, but he also seemed to be looking forward to free agency coming off a 38-save season.

There was no apparent sign of a shoulder issue with Balfour in 2013, but he did struggle in the final stages of the season. He logged a 5.06 ERA in August and issued 13 walks in 17 2/3 innings over his final 18 appearances of the regular season. Manager Bob Melvin stayed away from using Balfour for a few days in early September, then remarked how Balfour’s fastball had more pop after he had received some rest.

That could have been a sign of general fatigue and not necessarily shoulder trouble. But whatever the case, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Balfour. What’s the market for a soon-to-be 36-year-old closer who’s been flagged with shoulder concerns?

It’s also a tough break for the Orioles. They just so happened to trade a standout closer, Jim Johnson, to the A’s on Dec. 2, then attempted to sign Oakland’s former closer in Balfour, only to have that fall through.

The Orioles had scheduled a Friday press conference to introduce Balfour. Now it’s back to the drawing board to find their next closer.