Insurance is also a factor. It’s getting harder for teams to take out massive insurance policies on players so they don’t have to pay off the contract in the event of a career-ending injury. You won’t see players who have red flags on their medical reports and other issues such as weight problems getting huge contracts without the safety net of insurance to make it worth the gamble.
What will be more prevalent is what happened with Mike Napoli and the Red Sox last winter and what’s happening with Balfour now. Napoli’s medical reports showed a degenerative hip condition that spurred the Red Sox to pull their three-year, $39 million offer – agreed to with Napoli – off the table. Napoli was in a worse position than Balfour is and the Red Sox actually behaved worse than the Orioles have. It was leaked that Napoli had this hip issue so the other teams that were interested would know about it beforehand. The offers he received were not likely to be much larger than what the Red Sox eventually signed Napoli for with a $5 million base salary and $8 million in performance bonuses. He was trapped into either accepting the Red Sox offer or going back into the market with this glowing marker on both hips saying he was damaged goods. For Napoli and the Red Sox, it all worked out as the player stayed healthy, had a fine year and helped the club win the World Series. He was rewarded with a two-year, $32 million contract to stay and will wind up getting more money than the original $39 million he had agreed to. But that doesn’t make what happened right or fair.
I wouldn’t expect the happy ending to be the new normal.
After his retirement due to hip injuries of his own, the same Orioles received $27 million in insurance to cover Albert Belle’s contract. Insurance covered 75 percent of Mo Vaughn’s massive contract when an arthritic knee kept him from playing for the Mets. Interestingly, the Mets GM at the time of the Vaughn injury was Jim Duquette, Dan Duquette’s cousin. With the number of players whose careers have ended abruptly and the skyrocketing cost of their contracts, either insurers are going to avoid covering the contracts at all or the premiums will increase substantially – neither of which is optimal for the clubs.
Was this Balfour contract breakdown part of a diabolical scheme on the part of the Orioles to get out of a deal they were having second thoughts about? Do they owe an explanation? Is it fair that Balfour, his agents and the media are searching for qualified doctors to insist that Balfour is healthy in an attempt to shame the Orioles and save the pitcher’s free agent bona fides?