SARASOTA, Fla. — Jeremy Accardo officially signed with the Orioles on Dec. 17, though in his mind, where he would pitch in 2011 became a formality two weeks earlier.
That's when Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and manager Buck Showalter called Accardo while they were at baseball's winter meetings and told the reliever how much the club valued him.
"The way they went about their business, they said they were going to be honest with me, 'This is what we're going to do, this is the way we see it,'" Accardo said. "They had me sold from the get-go. If I had the paper in front of me, I would have probably signed it right then. They've been great. I couldn't have asked for anything better."
After a tumultuous 41/2-year run in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization that included a 30-save year, a season-ending injury, a long banishment to Triple-A and an ugly divorce between player and team, Accardo is just relieved to get another opportunity and be free of the baggage he carried with his previous club.
Accardo, 29, has pitched two scoreless outings this spring, and he's scheduled to throw Monday night against the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium. He remains a front-runner for one of the two or three available spots in the Orioles' Opening Day bullpen.
"I couldn't be happier being over here," said Accardo, who signed a one-year, $1.08 million deal with the Orioles. "I'm happy to get a new, fresh start, a fresh look, a fresh mindset. I think I stumbled into something pretty special here. It's one of the better camps I've been in, some of the best coaches I've ever been around. The players, everybody gets along from top to bottom. Hopefully, I can be part of something special."
To put Accardo's comments in perspective, it is necessary to review how it all went so terribly wrong in Toronto. The Blue Jays acquired him from the San Francisco Giants during the 2006 season and installed the right-hander as their closer a year later when former Oriole B.J. Ryan went to the disabled list. Accardo saved 30 games in 2007 and pitched to a 2.14 ERA in 64 contests, allowing just 51 hits in 671/3 innings.
Accardo started the 2008 season as the Blue Jays' closer, but he didn't pitch in the big leagues after May 9 because of a forearm injury, which he said was initially misdiagnosed. When he returned in time for spring training 2009, Toronto manager Cito Gaston wanted Accardo to be a starter until that plan was scuttled before the end of the spring.
Accardo, instead, was sent to Triple-A and not brought back to the big leagues until mid-June. Despite pitching well for the Jays in 2009, compiling a 2.55 ERA over 26 appearances, he was demoted three times that season.
"I threw the ball well after spring training in 2009," said Accardo, who has said in the past that he was lied to by the Blue Jays' front office. "It's just one of those things that I don't have an answer to. That's what we tried to find for a couple of years, an answer to that question, and we never did. There's no telling. Nobody has ever said anything from either side. It was just kind of people butting heads."
With new general manager Alex Anthopoulos guiding Toronto, Accardo felt that things would be different in 2010. He made the club out of spring training but didn't pitch in the Jays' first six games and saw game action just three times over the first 19 days of the season. His ERA at 8.10 over his first five appearances, Accardo was demoted to Triple-A in late April and never pitched for the Blue Jays again.
"Making the club out of spring last year and not throwing for 15 or 16 days, it's one of those things where you go out there and finally pitch and you're not really that crisp," he said. "Mentally, you go home and you feel like you never really had a chance. It's those little things that kind of make you stronger as a person and as a player. All it does is help you in the long run. I'm just going to put it behind me and soak in what I learned. We'll just move on and go from there."
The Orioles, meanwhile, tried to get Accardo from Toronto several times over the past couple of years, but were unable to pull off a trade. When the pitcher was nontendered by the Blue Jays on Dec. 2, they quickly contacted his agent.
"I wasn't that familiar with him coming in, other than the scouting reports, the film and what our scouts have said about him, but he's been impressive," Showalter said. "You can see why he's had some success. I think he's kind of feeding off the new scenery, fresh start, and he's trying to impress. You can tell. He's been good."
Though he clearly remains disappointed by what he perceived as unfair treatment by the Blue Jays, Accardo acknowledges that he wouldn't trade the experience for anything, especially because it allowed him to work with Dave LaRoche. A former big league pitcher, LaRoche was the pitching coach at for the Las Vegas 51s, the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate.