Professional baseball -- like any professional sport, or anything professional whatsoever in the Western world -- is a mercenary thing by nature. Players go where the money is, and there's nothing wrong with that, as much as some people whose investment is as consumers instead of labor might wish otherwise. Having a car dealership or a steakhouse with your statue out front in town doesn't mean much of anything when it comes to the kinds of money that gets thrown around in free agency these days.
Which brings us to Brian Roberts, the Baltimore Orioles, and the New York Yankees. A number of the Yankees fans I've run into in my personal life saw Roberts as some kind of thorn in New York's side back when he was the regular second baseman for the Orioles. Watching him as a Baltimore fan, I never really saw that. He was a slightly better hitter against the Yankees (.773 career OPS against) than he was for his career (.761 OPS), but 12 points of OPS do not a Yankee-killer make, and let's be honest: the only meaningful games the Orioles and Yankees have played against each other since the late nineties happened over the last two seasons, after Roberts was already done as an everyday player.
The market was a different place when the Orioles gave Roberts a four-year, $40 million contract extension before the 2009 season (he was already under contract to make $8 million that season, so it was a five-year, $48 million contract on the whole). That was seen as something of a reward contract for a player who was the face of a team mired in the worst funk in its history. These days, of course, that would be a steal for an above-average second baseman entering his age-32 season (from 2001-2009, Roberts played 126 games a year with a 105 OPS+ and solid defense at second base), but the TV money contracts hadn't really taken off yet.
That Brian Roberts no longer exists, sadly. The guy going to New York next year is a platoon second baseman gone past the twilight of his career well on into dusk, whose problems hitting left-handed pitching have exacerbated over the years and who may be one bad headfirst slide away from another very serious battle with post-concussion syndrome.
Roberts will make $2 million in New York next season as part of the middle infield jumble replacing Robinson Cano. It's unlikely he'll see a lot of playing time, as both his health and ability should give most of the starts to Kelly Johnson, but throwing relatively small, controlled amounts of cash at formerly productive veterans with durability problems has worked out well for New York before -- see Eric Chavez. At 36, however, Roberts is three years older than Chavez was when he signed in the Bronx, and his injury problems are more severe than Chavez's hamstring and lower-body problems with Oakland.
In late 2010, after missing an extended portion of the first part of the season battling pneumonia, Roberts hit his batting helmet with his bat after striking out against the Tampa Bay Rays -- while still wearing it -- and suffered a concussion severe enough to keep him out of the final six games of the season. Then in Boston the following May, Roberts slid into first base against the Red Sox and concussed himself again; that led to an out-of-control spiral of post-concussion symptoms that kept him sidelined until the middle of 2012.
Roberts believes those were the first two concussions of his life, and it's cause for extreme concern that his reaction to them was so devastating that he was forced to consider retirement, especially in light of recent revelations about another ex-Oriole, the late Ryan Freel. The fact that Freel suffered an estimated nine to ten concussions over the course of his career while Roberts has suffered "only" two to date would be more heartening for Roberts' future outlook, and the risk he's taking by continuing to play, if the medical responses among victims of concussions were in any way standardized, but they're not. Some people can suffer a dozen concussions with minimal long term effects, while others can be in serious danger after just one. It's some slight comfort that Roberts's most recent health issues -- two surgeries to fix a hip flexor and a sports hernia -- have nothing to do whatsoever with post-concussion syndrome or anything remotely related; one hopes those problems are fully behind him.
So Roberts goes where the money is for one more year, and Orioles fans have to deal with the one or two games he's bound to play against Baltimore in 2014 in pinstripes. The sting won't last; it's just one season. Soon he'll be retired and in the Orioles Team Hall of Fame, where he belongs. Until then, however, it's just another piece of business.