On Friday, every team in baseball must decide whether or not to offer arbitration to their eligible players. In the past, there was draft pick stuff attached to this process, but thankfully the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the Player's Association has simplified arbitration down a little bit. If the Orioles offer their player's arbitration, they are guaranteeing that player will stay in the organization for the 2013 season and get a substantial raise over their 2012 salary. If instead the O's decline to offer arbitration, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The exact salaries of arbitration players are to-be-determined at this point. There is normal contract negotiation, and at a later point in the winter unsigned arbitration players and their teams submit offers to an arbitration panel. If an agreement can't be reached, the player and team go to a hearing in front of that panel. The salary is then picked between the two submitted offers.
Despite the exact salaries of arbitration players being unknown, MLBTradeRumors has built a pretty decent system for predicting where teams and players will end up. According to their system, the Orioles could end up spending $41.1 million dollars on their 14 eligible players. They already have $53.57 million committed to nine players for 2013, so the O's would be looking at about a $94.7 million payroll for 23 players. Add in the pre-arbitration eligible players on the 40 man roster, like Trayvon Robinson or Jonathon Schoop, who make around the major league minimum of $480,000, and the O's are looking at about $103 million in current major league payroll obligations for the 2013 season. Their 2012 Opening Day payroll was around $84.1 million.
Most of the Orioles' decisions to offer or decline arbitration are no-brainers. Matt Wieters, Jason Hammel, and the like are staying in the organization for now. Omar Quintanilla is not. There are a couple of interesting questions (and we have all week to look at them!) but by far the most intriguing will-they-or-won't-they is for first baseman Mark Reynolds.
Reynolds is projected to make $8.9 million through arbitration. He hit .221/.335/.429 in 2012, and .221/.323/.483 in 2011. He can only play first base or designated hitter, and has expressed disdain for the DH role in the past, although he only has 12 games played as a DH. He is a below average defensive first baseman, albeit one with a growing reputation as a strong defender. That dichomity seems to come from focusing on Reynolds' strengths as a defender - he has great hands and scoops a lot of bad throws - while ignoring his weaknesses - he has no range whatsoever. His scooping ability is an asset (this small study is old, but gives you a nice overview), but defensive value begins with range. Range is 90% of defense. You cannot be a plus defender without range.
This isn't a huge problem. First base is usually where you put a player like Reynolds, where the value is all on offense. It is also where you put a player like Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold, or Wilson Betemit. Not that anyone can just pick up the position on a whim - Javy Lopez all taught us that valuable lesson - but the Orioles have viable options at the position beyond Reynolds. You could also say they have a logjam of players for the position, all of whom cost less than $8.9 million.
As a roster decision, offering Mark Reynolds arbitration makes sense. He should be one of the Orioles' better hitters in 2013, and the team is a little bit offense-starved. He is a far more stable option as an everyday player than Davis, Reimold, or Betemit. Call it his veteran advantage. But this is not a roster decision; it's a money decision. Does it makes sense for a team that has yet to fill in any of their holes this winter to max out their payroll? The O's are unlikely to expand their Opening Day payroll much past $100 million, so retaining Reynolds comes at the cost of upgrading the rest of the roster.
In that light, it makes far more sense for the Orioles to non-tender Reynolds. They can still try and re-sign him for less money on the free agent market, but that shouldn't be as high a priority as upgrading the pitching staff, left field, or second base.
Putting Chris Davis at the top of the first base depth chart is also beneficial: Davis is probably the first baseman of the future in Baltimore, and it'd be nice to know definitively if he is a fit at the position. Reynolds is the first baseman of the past, and the Orioles - like every team - need to constantly be moving into the future.