The Orioles backed out of a two-year, $15 million deal with free-agent reliever Grant Balfour on Friday, saying their doctors were not satisfied with the results of his physical.
Rays team physician Koco Eaton, who has a lengthy history with Balfour, doesn’t know why.
Eaton examined Balfour in Tampa on Friday and also performed a contrast MRI on the pitcher’s right shoulder — the area that troubled the Orioles, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Asked if he was surprised that the Orioles declined to complete their deal with Balfour, Eaton said “Yes,” adding that approving the contract was “kind of a no-brainer.”
The Orioles, under owner Peter Angelos, have been sticklers for “clean” medical reports, previously quashing deals with pitchers Xavier Hernandez and Aaron Sele and outfielder Jeromy Burnitz due to medical or contract-related medical concerns.
But Eaton told FOX Sports that he saw no red flags with Balfour’s arm, and Reds team physician Timothy Kremcheck — who performed elbow and shoulder surgeries on Balfour in 2005 — concurred.
“The MRI that I did on him today looked exactly the same as the MRI I did three years ago,” said Eaton, who cared for Balfour with the Rays from 2007 to ’10 and performed his physical when the pitcher signed a two-year, $8.1 million free-agent contract with the Athletics in Jan. 2011.
“It did not look normal compared to a person who does not play baseball for a living. But for someone who plays baseball for a living, it looked normal. There are abnormalities on the MRI as there are on every single baseball player’s. But three years ago, there was no issue, and he had pretty good performance when he was with Oakland.”
According to a source, the Orioles did not compare Balfour’s present MRI to the one he had three years ago, as is customary.
Balfour, who turns 36 on Dec. 30, missed the 2005 and ’06 seasons after undergoing his elbow and shoulder surgeries, but has not been on the disabled list for arm trouble since.
Over the past two seasons, he converted 62 of 67 save opportunities with a 2.56 ERA for the Athletics and was named to the 2013 American League All-Star team. He also pitched three scoreless innings for the A’s against the Tigers in the 2013 Division Series.
“I would say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that his shoulder would not be a problem going forward any more than it was a problem over the past three years,” Eaton said. “And there was no problem over the past three years.”
Kremchek, Balfour’s past surgeon, said he reviewed the report on the pitcher’s MRI with the Orioles on Friday and was “pleasantly surprised by little change he had, particularly in his shoulder.”
“For a guy in his 30s who has pitched six or seven years since his rotator-cuff repair, his MRI on his shoulder looks remarkably good,” Kremchek said. “I have not seen the (actual) MRI. But when I saw the report, I was like, ‘Whoa, it looks pretty good.’ And with his elbow, the same thing.”
Orioles general manager Dan Duquette informed reporters in Baltimore on Friday that the team would explore other options for a closer after declining to complete its deal with Balfour.
When informed of Eaton’s remarks, Duquette said, “I don’t have anything to add other than that our doctors aren’t satisfied with the results of the physical. These medical opinions vary from doctor to doctor. The processes vary from club to club.”
Balfour, who remains a free agent, will discuss with the players’ association whether to file a grievance against the Orioles, according to a source.