Who in their right mind would ever want to work for Peter Angelos?
The preceding question was buried a bit in the wake of Baltimore’s extraordinary 2012 season, in which Buck Showalter led a roster almost entirely constructed by fired GM Andy MacPhail to a wild card berth and the club’s first playoff appearance since 1997.
Last week, the Orioles agreed to terms with closer Grant Balfour, but backed out. According to Ken Rosenthal, “their doctors were not satisfied with the physical.” These things happen, especially in a league like MLB where the commissioner’s office routinely reveals agreed upon contracts before completion. But was anything actually wrong with Balfour?
“The MRI that I did on him today looked exactly the same as the MRI I did three years ago,” Rays doctor Koco Eaton told Rosenthal. And Timothy Kremchek, Reds physician and Balfour’s most recent surgeon, said he was “presently surprised by little change” and said “when I saw the report, I was like, ‘Whoa, it looks pretty good,’” again per Rosenthal.
This is nothing new for the Orioles. As Dan Connolly wrote in the Baltimore Sun after the news broke:
“No question that the Orioles are particularly stringent about the medical results from their physicals, which have the reputation of being exceptionally thorough. (In one of the greatest lines ever shared with me, one former Orioles player, after signing a deal and going through an intense examination, told me he thought the club was going to ask him to go to Pimlico Race Course and run 6 furlongs.)”
Let’s remember the 1990s. In December 1998, the Orioles signed pitche Xavier Hernandez to a $2.5 million deal, added him to the roster, and then later discovered his rotator cuff was torn. The Orioles voided the contract, but the issue was clearly their fault — they added him to the roster and completed the contract before the physical exam. The parties eventually agreed to a $1.75 million settlement, and Hernandez never pitched again in the major leagues.
Now fast forward to January 2000, when the Orioles agreed to terms on a four-year, $29 million deal — still a significant sum, but especially so 14 years ago — with starting pitcher Aaron Sele. That deal, like Balfour’s, was held up over concerns resulting from a physical, and Angelos immediately attempted to revise the contract. According to the New York Times, Orioles’ doctors were concerned Sele’s arm had “only 400 innings left.” Angelos wanted to reduce the contract to two years. Sele said no, went back to the free agent market, and signed with Seattle for two years and $15 million.
Sele wound up an All-Star in his first year with Seattle. Over his two years as a Mariner, Sele threw 426 2/3 innings with a 4.05 ERA (108 ERA+) and compiled 5.0 WAR per Baseball-Reference. He went on to throw 686 2/3 more innings for the Angels, Mariners again, Dodgers and Mets — apparently he had a bit more than 400 innings left in his arm. But he lost $14 million off his first free agent contract as a result of getting tagged as damaged goods thanks to Angelos and the Orioles. Luckily, he ended up making that money back on his next contract (three years, $24 million with Anaheim).
Fast forward again, this time to 2006. The Orioles agreed in principle to a two-year, $12 million deal with Jeromy Burnitz. But Burnitz’s agent thought the language in the deal gave the Orioles too much leeway to back out depending on the results of the physical. Burnitz ended up rejecting the contract and signed a one-year, $6.7 million deal with the Pirates with an option year that would equal the Orioles’ $12 million offer. Perhaps the Orioles were right this time: Burnitz hit just .230/.289/.422 (81 OPS+) for Pittsburgh and was out of the league following the 2006 season.
But it’s clear that the Orioles mindset regarding physicals has led to mistrust around the league, and not just from players. Frank Wren, now the general manager in Atlanta, was the lead executive in Baltimore who signed Xavier Hernandez. In 2006, in the wake of the Burnitz debacle, Wren told the New York Times: “That’s how Peter plays general manager. He uses medical reasons to kill or change a deal if he doesn’t like it.”
So, again, I ask, who in their right mind would want to work for Peter Angelos?
And I don’t just mean in terms of playing baseball for the man, a man who would gladly cut you loose at the slightest sign of physical degradation. I mean, who would want to work in a front office, directly under Angelos? The answer, we may remember from the Orioles GM search following MacPhail’s firing in 2011, is pretty much nobody.
Tony LaCava, assistant GM for Toronto, turned down the job, as did Jerry Dipoto, who waited for the GM job to open up in Anaheim. Allard Baird, former Royals GM and current Red Sox executive, turned them down, as did DeJon Watson, assistant general manager for the Dodgers. For each of these men, a GM spot would have been a promotion, and they all turned the Orioles down. Finally, Dan Duquette — a man who had been out of baseball since he exited the Red Sox GM position in 2002 — took the job.
Danny Knobler explained why LaCava turned down the job. There’s little reason to believe these reasons didn’t apply to the rest of the young talent to turn Angelos and the Orioles down two years ago as well.
“Specifically, those sources said, LaCava wanted to clear out some long-term front-office people whose jobs have been protected by Angelos. Angelos refused to do that, even though he was willing to pay LaCava a competitive salary and to bring in other front-office people that LaCava wanted to hire (including Mike Berger, currently the director of pro scouting with the Diamondbacks).
The Orioles GM job is a difficult one, one rival executive said, because Angelos is such a force from above, manager Buck Showalter exerts strong influence from below, and the Orioles play in the tough American League East. People who know LaCava said that Showalter (who has taken part in the interview process) was never an issue, and LaCava already works in the American League East.”
As Sports on Earth baseball writer Jonathan Bernhardt pointed out recently, Balfour’s would-be two-year $15 million deal would have been the club’s most expensive contract in Dan Duquette’s short tenure. Instead, that dubious honor belongs to Wei-Yin Chen, who signed a three-year, $11.4 million deal to come to the states prior to the 2012 season.
The team will use the smallest medical issue — or nonexistent medical issues — to spike a contract. The team is unwilling to spend money on free agents. The team employs front office executives for connections over ability. And this all begins and ends with the owner — the only man in the entire organization who can’t be fired. The man who, in the end, represents the organization more than anybody else.
One last time, I ask: who in their right mind would ever want to work for Peter Angelos?