Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 4/25/12
Mlb_may_29_8b8e

Matt Sosnick feels very strongly about the situation his client, Dontrelle Willis, currently finds himself in. Per Jerry Crasnick’s post on the Willis-Orioles drama at ESPN.com:

“I can’t imagine making this kind of deal over something so trivial. We’re talking about a minor league player that Baltimore has relatively no financial investment in whatsoever. It’s the dumbest thing ever and a waste of everybody’s time. Dan has had a thousand chances to ratchet this down a notch, and all he’s done is ratchet it up.” – Matt Sosnick

Sosnick is referring to the Orioles recent transaction placing Willis on the restricted list. The move prevents Willis from signing with another team, even though he supposedly left the organization with the blessing of team officials. Instead, what appears to have happened is that those same officials relayed their recommendations to GM Dan Duquette, who instead placed Willis on the list generally reserved for players who have left the organization, but in whom the team still has interest.

Which means that Willis left the team under the impression that everything was fine, only to find out on the news — according to Sosnick — that he was placed on the restricted list.

While both sides technically have a case here, Sosnick is correct in that this is all much ado about nothing. Dontrelle Willis, quite simply, isn’t worth any of this hullabaloo, and it’s hard to see why the Orioles haven’t just released him. Now that Willis has filed a grievance on the matter, this unnecessary situation is set to get even more out of hand.

The Orioles signed Willis after he was released by the Phillies this spring, but Willis grew unhappy with his role in the organization. He was obviously signed to compete for a bullpen spot as a lefty specialist, but Willis, who has dealt with anxiety issues in the past, was having trouble adapting. Even though he spent most of the 2011 season as a LOOGY for the Reds, and spent this spring with the Phillies in a similar role, Willis said his arm wasn’t responding well and implied he would feel more comfortable starting.

That’s all well and good except for the fact that Willis is no longer an effective major league starting pitcher. His only tangible value to a team is as a lefty specialist, and even then he is an unproven commodity. If the Orioles placed him on the restricted list because they were so enamored of his LOOGYing ability, then why did they sign him to a non-guaranteed deal and place him in the minors? He spent all of spring training with the Phillies, so he is still in game shape, and he wasn’t dealing with any injuries that required a rehab assignment.

If they were convinced that his numbers against lefties last season truly reflected his current true talent level, it would have behooved them to get him in the major league ‘pen as soon as possible. But that never happened, which suggests Duquette’s decision has more to do with making a point than actually improving the Orioles organization.

And that point would be, what, exactly?

That fringe major league talent has no right to dictate where they play or in what role? Maybe a case could be made that Willis acted immaturely and should have honored his agreement as a reliever, but three months from now nobody would even remember he was in the Orioles organization if he was just granted his outright release. He isn’t anywhere close to an impact player, and if it wasn’t for the value of name recognition, this would be akin to the Phillies and Pete Orr getting into a public spat.

The situation is easier to grasp from Willis’s side, as it’s entirely possible that he has offers overseas as a starting pitcher. It has already been rumored that a couple of teams in Asia are seeking his services, and if he doesn’t want to pitch in relief in the majors, he doesn’t want to pitch in relief in the majors. He isn’t going to be the difference between a team succeeding or failing, and he certainly wasn’t going to catapult the Orioles to respectability or help attract other free agents to Baltimore.

And the impact this has on future free agents is noteworthy as well. This offseason illustrated how few free agents and executives wanted to go to Baltimore, and Duquette’s actions in this situation offer absolutely no positive outcomes towards improving the perception of the organization around baseball.

Dontrelle is viewed as one of the good guys around baseball and Duquette’s actions will come off as villainous regardless of his justification.

The bottom line is that Willis says he was told it was okay to leave and seek opportunities elsewhere, while the organization claims he left without permission. Willis thought it was a mutual parting of ways, as he further explained in Crasnick’s piece:

“It’s one of those things where, if he had told me he was putting me on the restricted list, I wouldn’t have left. I didn’t grab my book bag and run out of the class. I’m almost dumbfounded. I’m not even upset. I don’t know if it’s personal because I don’t know Dan.” – Dontrelle Willis

Whether it’s personal or not, Willis has every right to be dumbfounded, because even if there was a miscommunication along the way, this situation should have been resolved quickly. There is absolutely no reason not to release him regardless of who said what, to whom, and when, and even less of a reason for the situation to escalate to the point of a grievance being filed.

This is an ugly and unnecessary situation that offers no positive outcome whatsoever to the Orioles and really makes one wonder what Duquette truly hopes to get out of it.


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