- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Pitcher Dontrelle Willis is filing a grievance against the Baltimore Orioles, alleging the club placed him on the restricted list and is preventing him from signing with another organization even though he left the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate with the consent of a team official.
Willis received permission from Tripp Norton, Baltimore's director of baseball administration, before leaving the Norfolk Tides last Wednesday, said agent Matt Sosnick.
Dan Duquette, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations, didn't immediately respond to a phone call or email. But Duquette told CBSSports.com on Monday that Willis left Norfolk without the organization's permission. Duquette added that the Orioles would welcome Willis' return and think he can be a successful reliever in the big leagues.
As long as Willis remains on the restricted list, he can't sign with another club without Baltimore receiving compensation. Sosnick said Duquette has not returned his phone calls, and that the Orioles are holding Willis "hostage" by refusing to discuss the matter.
"Dan has said nobody gave Dontrelle permission," Sosnick told ESPN.com. "Dan knows that's not true. 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."
Willis, 30, is 72-69 with a 4.17 ERA in parts of nine major league seasons. After capturing the Rookie of the Year award with Florida in 2003 and winning 22 games in 2005, he went to Detroit with Miguel Cabrera as part of an eight-player trade in December 2007. Willis has since struggled with injuries, anxiety-related issues and a decline in velocity, and he's had limited success in stops with Arizona, San Francisco and Cincinnati.
Willis signed with Baltimore in late March after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies late in spring training. The Orioles said they planned to use Willis out of the bullpen, and the pitcher appeared to be on board with the idea. But Willis later had second thoughts because his arm wasn't responding well to relieving and he did not feel comfortable in the role. He expressed a desire to start in a conversation with Norton last week.
"Tripp told Dontrelle, 'If Dan isn't open to him starting, of course we'll give him his release. We don't want a player doing something he doesn't want to do,' " Sosnick said. "I've known Tripp Norton for 15 years and had good, direct, honest dealings with him time after time. I'm disappointed for Tripp that he's been placed in the middle of this."
Willis went home after meeting with Duquette, Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Mike Griffin and failing to reach agreement with the Orioles over whether he would start or relieve for the Tides. Willis told MASNSports.com that he was "dumbfounded" when the Orioles placed him on the restricted list, because he thought he had clearance to leave Norfolk.
"I thought it was a mutual parting of ways," Willis said. "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."
According to Baseball-reference.com, "A team can request that a player be placed on the restricted list if that player has left the team without a valid reason, or has announced his intention to retire but is still of an age or level of skill that could allow him to return to professional baseball in the future. In effect, the team states that it retains rights to the player if and when he becomes active again."
Several players with legal or off-field issues have been placed on the restricted list in recent months. The Cleveland Indians placed pitcher Roberto Hernandez (aka Fausto Carmona) on the list in January after he was arrested on charges of using a false identity. The Tampa Bay Rays did the same with minor league pitcher Matt Bush after he was charged with DUI and leaving the scene of an accident in March.
Sosnick denied speculation that Willis has received interest from a club in Japan or Korea. He said he would be happy to reach a financial accommodation with the Orioles should Willis pursue opportunities in Asia.
"I have not been contacted by any Asian team about Dontrelle," Sosnick said. "But I know that Dan has closer ties to Korea than I do, so maybe he knows something that I don't know."
Dontrelle Willis is filing a grievance against the Orioles, alleging that the club placed him on the restricted list and is preventing him from signing with another organization even though he left the O's Triple-A affiliate with the consent.