Per Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun, the Orioles seem to be balking on Grant Balfour and shifting focus in their closer search to Rodney.
Baltimore had scheduled a news conference to introduce Balfour on December 20, but Connolly reports the team has since cancelled it. That said, general manager Dan Duquette is still slated to deliver some news on the Balfour situation.
The closer spot opened up for the Orioles on December 2, when they traded Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later, also per Connolly. The writer states that Johnson's arbitration ruling, awarding him more than $10 million, prompted the organization to make the move.
As previously reported by Eduardo Encina and Connolly, the Orioles reached an agreement with Balfour, most recently a member of the A's, for a two-year, $15 million contract, so Balfour would have gotten about $3 million less in 2014 than Johnson was slated to receive.
However, Balfour's physical revealed an unspecified shoulder issue, which raises major red flags given his previous injury history.
From Encina and Connolly:
The severity of any injury to Balfour’s shoulder is unknown. But before Balfour, who converted 62 of 67 save opportunities for the Athletics over the past two seasons, emerged as a dependable late-inning arm, he missed two full seasons in 2005 and 2006 after reconstructive elbow and shoulder surgeries.
Over that same two-season span, Fernando Rodney registered 85 saves in 95 opportunities. At age 36, he is a year older than Balfour but without any major injuries in his past to concern a potential suitor.
What could bother Baltimore—and what likely prompted the O's to pursue Balfour before Rodney—is the new target's asking price.
If Baltimore gives in and signs Rodney for basically Johnson's proposed price tag, it would be a loss for the front office only in the sense that its plan backfired.
While Johnson just turned 30 last season and has saved 50 games two years in a row, he's had injury concerns in his past as well. The Orioles may be taking a half step down for the same price by going from Johnson to Rodney, but they're landing the more secure option.
They're also making the right call to search for a more expensive option in lieu of Balfour rather than a cheaper one.
After 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles have won 178 games over the last two, 101 of which Johnson saved. The team leans on a strong bullpen, and the closer position is integral to Baltimore's status as a playoff hopeful.
The Orioles tried to avoid it, but some spending is necessary to compete in the AL East. With the Boston Red Sox coming off a World Series title and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays consistent playoff threats, Baltimore can't afford to let its strengths decay, even if strength costs.
An eight-digit Rodney contract might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the need substantiates it. He might be pricey, but the Orioles won't mind paying him to save games in October.