Orioles great Paul Blair, a four-time World Series champion and owner of eight Gold Gloves, died this week. His passing spread sadness like a wildfire through Orioles Nation, although the celebration of both his career and his life off the field has given the team a brief respite from the negative attention hurled its way over the past few weeks.
As Blair is laid to rest, expect the cacophony from fans and media alike to resume. There's no doubt about it, if the Orioles' offseason moves (or lack thereof) were graded on a scale of 1 to 10, they'd likely be the only team in baseball with a negative mark.
Just consider all the franchise has endured this offseason.
It started off the hot-stove season with a bang, dealing All-Star closer Jim Johnson to Oakland. Johnson is one of just two pitchers in MLB history with multiple 50-save seasons, a feat he accomplished over the past two years, making him quite the catch for the A's and GM Billy Beane.
Orioles' fans know better though, as they had front-row seats to watching Johnson squeak his way through about half of those saves while nervously biting their fingernails down to the nubs.
In return for Johnson, Baltimore took in Jemile Weeks, a former infield prospect who appears poised to hold down the fort at second base until the front office feels Jonathan Schoop is seasoned enough to take over. Weeks, however, has appeared in just 223 big league games and has posted an unimpressive .258/.319/.357 line.
He had a terrific debut in 2011, hitting .303 with 26 doubles, eight triples and 22 steals in just 97 games, but regressed in a major way in 2012, slumping to a .221/.305/.304 line in 118 contests. He saw action in just eight games with Oakland last season, while posting a .271/.376/.369 line for Triple-A Sacramento.
Hardly a major improvement to the lineup.
That's okay, though, because there's no guarantee Weeks, who at age 26 still has one minor league option remaining, will even be on the Opening Day roster. If that's the case, it would open the door for super-sub Ryan Flaherty, he of the career .221 batting average, to take over starting duties.
The only real prize of the deal seems to be the $10-11 million Baltimore saved by not having to pay Johnson's 2014 salary.
So what did the O's do with that money?
This brings us to the unfortunate story of Grant Balfour.
After saving 62 games for the A's the past two years, Balfour entered free agency looking for a deal in the $6-8-million-a-year range. Naturally, a move to Baltimore, now in need of a closer, seemed to make the most sense. By now, we all know what happened. The O's medical team "found" something amiss in Balfour's physical exam and used that to back out of the deal, which had been tentatively agreed upon as a two-year, $15 million according to MASN's Roch Kubatko.
A back-and-forth battle of words ensued, with general manager Dan Duquette stating that Balfour's medical results warranted the cancellation of the contract and Balfour's agent Seth Levinson proclaiming his physical showed the same results that warranted a two-year $8.1 million deal back in 2011.
Courtesy of Kubatko:
"The reason is the club's not satisfied with the results of the physical exam. We would never say never or close the door, but we're turning our attention elsewhere for now to look at some other options to try to staff our team and try to build a contending team for 2014."
"Grant is completely healthy and that was told to us today by Dr. Koco Eaton, a well-respected club physician. Dr. Eaton's opinion is based upon the fact that the MRI which was taken today is the same as the MRI which was taken in 2011 as a condition of the 3-year contract that Grant signed with the A's."
In the end, the only thing that matters is that Balfour will be pitching in a city other than Baltimore and that the O's have yet to fill their need at closer.
But hey, at least while they were awaiting the results of Balfour's physical they picked up a 25-year old former top prospect (Francisco Peguero) and a second-year outfielder (David Lough) in a deal that cost them infielder Danny Valencia. Both Peguero and Lough could easily make this team's Opening Day roster, especially in the shape it's in now, or just as easily end up shagging flies at Triple-A Norfolk.
Also in the Balfour waiting period, the O's allowed free agent and fan favorite Brian Roberts to skip town—to New York of all places. The Yankees needed a starting second baseman after Robinson Cano departed for Seattle, and the Orioles, well...the Orioles just don't care about retaining players who might be better than any other alternative they have in-house.
Completing the season of sadness, Baltimore also allowed Nate McLouth (to rival Washington) and Scott Feldman (Houston) to leave town via free agency. Granted, neither was a major impact player, but both contributed to the two winningest squads the O's have fielded in the past 15 years. McLouth, in particular, played an inspiring role in the team's run to the playoffs in 2012 and was a favorite of manager Buck Showalter.
Losing the 32-year-old outfielder isn't expected to be much of a blow, considering the glut of outfielders waiting in the wings of the minor league system as well as his own drop-off in performance in the second half, but the decision to let Feldman leave was somewhat questionable.
The 30-year-old right-hander logged eight quality starts in 15 outings after being traded from Chicago in exchange for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Save for his final disastrous outing against Boston (2.1 IP, 8 H, 8 ER), Feldman was exceptional against division opponents, posting a 3.49 in six starts, four of which saw him pitch into the eighth inning. That performance looks even more impressive when you consider he only got three runs per game from his offense in seven total starts against the A.L. East.
So why didn't the O's bring back Feldman, who made just $6 million in 2012?
According Kubatko, they didn't want to offer him the three-year deal he was seeking. Instead, they watched him sign with Houston for three years and $30 million and their rotation get weaker.
The only true addition by the front office this offseason has been reliever Ryan Webb, who spent the past three seasons with Miami.
For those of you who aren't keeping count, the O's have lost Jim Johnson, Brian Roberts, Nate McLouth, Scott Feldman, Danny Valencia and, in a roundabout way, Grant Balfour.
They've added outfielders Francisco Peguero and David Lough, infielder Jemile Weeks and reliever Ryan Webb.
Just in terms of pure experience, this offseason the O's have swapped 2,920 games and four All-Star appearances for 640 games and zero All-Star appearances.
Now 61 days after one of those division rivals took home the World Series trophy, there's no way anyone could say the O's are a better team than they were last year.
And with only 80 days until the 2014 season opener in Sydney, Australia, there seems little that anyone could do to change that.
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