The Baltimore Orioles have the un-envious task of beginning work on the off-season earlier than 10 other teams. Even though free agency doesn’t officially begin until the day after the World Series and the free agent and trade markets aren’t ‘official’ yet, we can at least take a look at where this team stands with potential payroll and their own pending free agents.
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According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Baltimore Orioles payroll for the 2013 season was north of $92MM and they are only officially on the hook for roughly $45MM next season. However, with 10 or so arbitration eligible players that figure is certainly going to increase by quite a bit. The notable arbitration eligible players are Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Jim Johnson as they are likely to get the largest increases through the salary arbitration process.
In addition to their arbitration eligible players they also have their own lengthy list of pending free agents to address. Brian Roberts and his $10MM salary are coming off the books but he has indicated he would like to return to Baltimore next season. Jason Hammel made $6.75MM this season, spending much of his time on the disable list, and he is unlikely to be re-signed. Mike Morse, Scott Feldman, Nate McLouth, and Francisco Rodriguez are also set to become free agents and Feldman is the most likely of that group to be offered a new contract.
Even though it may seem as if the Orioles will have a hefty amount of money to spend this off-season, going from a $90+MM payroll to just around $45MM in firm commitments for next season, but don’t be fooled by current figures.
Their arbitration eligible players, those that they decide to offer contracts to that is, is going to eat up a lot of that perceived payroll room.
This is pure professional speculation on my part but Jim Johnson is likely to earn $9MM in his final year of arbitration, Chris Davis is likely to receive at least two and a half times the $3.3MM he earned this season, and Matt Wieters plays a premium position and is considered one of the best defensive catchers in baseball so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a bump in pay from the $5.5MM he was paid.
In addition to the big three there the team also has to decide what it wants to do with Bud Norris, who is arbitration eligible for the second time, and then Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz who are also arbitration eligible for the second time.
A conservative estimate would be that the team is likely to invest at least $30MM or so in those six players listed for arbitration purposes alone, whether they take a player to arbitration or reach a one-year deal to avoid the process, but the final cost is likely to push closer to $40MM.
Then of course there is J.J. Hardy, arguably the best overall shortstop in the American League, who becomes a free agent after the 2014 season. Does the team look into offering him an extension to keep Manny Machado at third base or do they let him go and find a replacement at third instead?
Lastly, we can’t forget that Chris Davis recently expressed a sincere interest in signing a long-term contract extension with the team and Matt Wieters will also be looking for some clarity on his long-term status with the organization fairly soon. Both players are represented by Scott Boras so no major discounts should be expected. He did manage to get Prince Fielder nine years and $214MM two years ago coming off of a season in which he hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs. Davis is coming off a season in which he hit .286/.370/.634 with 53 home runs.
The reason all of this information is important is because Dan Duquette may spend their allotted payroll flexibility on an extension for Davis, much the same way they extended Adam Jones, and claim they essentially did invest in the free agent market by preventing one of their best players from reaching the open market.
I’m not sure we should expect the organization to spend big money on free agents because as it stands now, even without a contract extension for one of their best players, they will still end up with a payroll near where it was this season. Maybe I’m wrong, but logically speaking I may not be too far off.