According to Cots, the Orioles 2015 Opening Day payroll is just under 119 million. That is the largest in franchise history. That represents an a 29% increase from 2012, the first year they got back into the playoffs since 1997. While they have had the occasional year here and there where they didn’t spend enough money, I feel the Orioles bigger issue has been how they spend it, not how much they spend.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
This is an organization that essentially ignores the International amateur market. While they have spent money on the big early draft picks they have had over the last 10 years, they haven’t gone for the guys who have dropped due to salary concerns or players like that in the draft. They basically do the bare minimum when it comes to those areas and there isn’t a whole lot of signs of improvement there.
So, that being the case, if they aren’t going to spend it on amateur talent and build the farm system better, they must be spending it on major league talent, right? That would be the case. The problem is, are they spending it on the RIGHT major league talent? In my opinion, they have too much money tied into guys who shouldn’t be on the team, much less making the amount of money that they do.
Now, don’t get me wrong; the Orioles do have cheap surplus talent. In fact, they have a decent amount of it and that is great to see. The problem is, when you aren’t going to just spend whatever you want, you do have to be smarter with the money, even if you are still spending a decent amount of money.
Let’s take a look at the Orioles 2015 payroll and see where the potential issues are.
For this exercise, I am going to group guys in different categories. For example, let’s take a look at Jimenez. The right-hander is taking up around 10% of this team’s payroll. When he was signed, we all knew he was a wild card signing. We all knew it was a signing that had the potential to blow up in the O’s faces or one where it could provide the Orioles surplus value, which is a rarity in bigger Free Agent contracts. As we entered this year, his deal looked to be a bad one but, as we are seeing, it is looking good at the moment. So, while you could argue that his deal is a problem, I do think its fair to say that he needed more of a chance because the upside is an underpaid #2 starter and that is a nice commodity to have.
Another guy you could look at is Chris Davis. We just don’t know what we have in Davis anymore. I felt he should have been dealt after his 2013 season but I can understand why the team would be afraid to do that. That being said, after a terrible 2014 season, the Orioles couldn’t make the decision to non tender him because, like Jimenez, the upside is just too high.
In other words, even if those deals turn out to be bad, you can understand the thought process because off the high ceilings those players have. To me, they belong in a different category than some of the other guys I am going to mention, if those players take up much less of the payroll.
My bigger issues are with Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Evereth Cabrera, De Aza and Delmon Young. Individually speaking none of these are huge deals. They are all 1 year deals and all are easy to just drop if you got to that point. Also, every one of those players has a chance to be a productive and useful player. However, they are also guys that just aren’t tough to replace.
Last year, of the 44 AL starters that threw at least 150 IP, 24 had a better ERA than Norris. 34 had a better FIP, 20 had a better K rate, 26 had a better BB rate, 33 had a better homer rate and 35 threw more innings. Now, are those stats terrible? No, of course not. They are fine. He had an ERA+ of 106 but that was the best of his career and his career has basically said he is an average or so pitcher. Again, he’s fine but the problem is this. You have a kid in Kevin Gausman who you supposedly really like. He is a ML ready talent that is ready to be in this league, pitching every 5th day. He showed that last year. There are still question marks about Gausman but he is ready to be learning in the Majors. Whether he sinks or swims is to be determined but he needs the chance. Instead, what do the Orioles do? They spend 8.8 million dollars, the 5th highest salary on the team, on an okay pitcher who has a very low ceiling. Its just not a good use of resources. Not only are you spending the big money on Norris, you are also blocking arguably your best pitching prospect. Norris was coming off a decent year and should have been dealt. They should have made room for Gausman, gotten younger via a trade and used that money better elsewhere.
Let’s look at the bench/occasional starter guys. Again, individually none of them are crippling contracts. Young is getting 2.2M, Cabrera 2.4M and De Aza is getting 5 million. But when you combine them and you see almost 10 million, that jumps out to me. I get that you were worried about Machado but you had Flaherty(better than Cabrera), Hardy, Paredes, Navarro, Janish, Schoop, etc…why spend that little bit of money? I get it, they wanted a SS but Flaherty is fine for a period of time. The defensive metrics don’t love Cabrera at SS either, so what was really the point? Young came off a great year for what he was asked to do. Out of all of the guys on this list, he is the one that bothers me the least. That said, they made him a priority this offseason and signed him early. He is a guy you wait on and hope to find a cheaper option or just a much better player. And if things don’t work out and he is there, go ahead and sign him. By signing him when they did, they kind of hamstrung the roster a little bit because he is basically a DH(looks better in the field this year though) and is challenged offensively in terms of power and plate discipline. The last guy here is De Aza. I think De Aza can have some value. A guy that can do some things well, has speed and a little bit of power. But what does he do that is better than Lough to justify the 5Mish difference in salary? They essentially do the same thing. So, why spend that money?
The last thing I will look at is the pen and specifically, Hunter and Matusz. Hunter is being paid 4.65M this year and Matusz is getting 3.3M. 39 AL relievers(of those who pitched at least 40 innings) had a better ERA than Hunter last year. 54 had a better ERA than Matusz. 45 pitchers had a better wOBA against lefties than Matusz did. Of those 45 AL pitchers, 28 were relievers(some righties as well as lefties). In other words, neither of these guys were all that great. Hunter ended the year with a decent sub 3 ERA and Matusz pitched a strong second half. But overall, we see every year on almost every team(including the Orioles), relievers making far less money and providing similar production. So, why give these 2 okay but nothing special players almost 8 million dollars combined? Baltimore had options. We signed Wesley Wright for a lot less and he provided similar numbers to Matusz. The O’s had young arms in the minors, like Mike Wright and have gotten guys like Brach and O’Day off the scrap heap.
Duquette has done a solid job of finding cheap depth and he deserves to be commended for that. So, if that is a strength of how you do things, why do you feel the need to spend big money on mediocre talent when you have shown that you can add that talent for a fraction of the cost? Where is the logic there?
All in all, those guys are making a combined 26.4M this year. Now, add in Ryan Webb and the fact that he is every bit the pitcher Hunter is but was making 2M less. Well, you decided not to keep him and that getting rid of his deal(one that should have never been given to him to begin with even though he is another solid guy) was worth more to you than the draft pick, which is absolutely absurd.
And now, you have traded two international slots for another old Single A pitcher who could be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft next year. That goes with what you decided to do with Garcia and Webb. This goes back to the beginning of this article. The money just isn’t spent wisely and they, way too often, ignores the future of this franchise.
Getting back to the Major Leaguer’s I highlighted here. 26.4M represents 22% of our team’s payroll. You could have similar production, IMO, for around 1/3 of the cost and that leaves you with 15-20 million to spend in a much better way.
What I would like to see is a form of the stars and scrubs roster. Essentially, cut out the non arbitration middling contracts. They just don’t usually work out and even if they do, you can get similar production for less money and, if you are lucky, you have young guys you can put into those spots and they can learn and grow and be key pieces for you long term.
Will these decisions to keep these players hurt the team? Right now, I would say yes but its probably not hurting them all that much in terms of wins and losses. It hurts them in other ways though. Not pulling the trigger on trades, not having more money around to go after a more significant talent, etc…
The future of this organization is a mystery in many ways. How they handle the payroll will be a big factor in determining how good this team can be as they go forward. The teams in the ALE will not be down for long and the Orioles will need to figure out a way to hang with them while most of them have a higher payroll. One of those ways will be to allocate your resources better than they do.
To close, I fully recognize that many teams make plenty of payroll decisions that are dumber than the ones the O’s have made but the knowledge that other teams make mistakes in judgement; does not make me feel better about the errors I believe O’s Management has made.