With a Friday deadline looming for arbitration-eligible players and teams to agree on contracts for the upcoming season without going to the next step and exchanging figures, the Orioles ended up settling with five of their six players. The one where there is still negotiating to be done is catcher Matt Wieters, who filed for a salary of $8.75 million, with the Orioles offering $6.5 million.
If the Orioles and Wieters don't agree on a contract before the hearings come around in February, the team and player will present their cases and a three-judge panel will rule in favor of one or the other. For the most part, players and teams tend to come to agreements at or near the midpoint between the two numbers. Agents know teams will come in a little low and teams know agents will come in a little high. It would be a surprise if he did not settle somewhere in the vicinity of $7.7 million.
The last player to go all the way to a hearing with the Orioles was Brad Bergesen, who made the curious decision to fight all the way when requesting $1.2 million before the 2012 season. The Orioles countered with $800,000 and won their case. Bergesen never even made the MLB roster that year. Prior to that, the Orioles did not have a case go to a hearing since 2006, when Rodrigo Lopez went all the way to the end. The O's have won seven straight cases dating back to 1995, when they lost to Ben McDonald.
The interesting thread is that McDonald and Lopez, like Wieters, were represented by Scott Boras. Does that mean there could be some kind of acrimonious hearing? Players are not always appreciative of the kinds of things teams say about them in an arbitration hearing, since, after all, it is the team arguing why the player deserves less money right to their face.
Boras being present does not guarantee a hearing. Wieters settled on a contract with the O's without getting to the exchanging of figures in 2013, when he made $5.5 million in his first year of arbitration.
The other prominent Boras client on the Orioles is Chris Davis, who agreed to terms on a $10.35 million contract for the upcoming season. That's a nice raise from his $3.3 million salary in 2013. Hitting 53 home runs will tend to get a player a nice raise. This was about what was projected that he would make.
Both sides have an incentive to settle, since the hearing is an all-or-nothing process. That the O's were over $2 million apart from Wieters is not a particular concern. Just recently, they were just as far apart from Adam Jones prior to the 2012 season, when the O's offered $5 million and Jones asked for $7.4 million. The two sides settled for $6.15 million and Jones was ultimately extended with a six-year contract.
Other than Davis and Wieters, the Orioles had an additional four arbitration-eligible players. Bud Norris agreed to terms on Thursday night to a $5.3 million contract for the upcoming season, his second year of arbitration. Closer candidate Tommy Hunter, also in his second year, will earn $3 million after agreeing to terms on Friday.
Troy Patton agreed to a $1.275 million contract for his first year of arbitration. Patton will miss the first 25 games of the season after being suspended for amphetamine use. The other arbitration-eligible player was Brian Matusz, who will get a $2.4 million salary for 2014.
The terms of his major league deal when he was drafted kept Matusz's initial MLB salary higher than the minimum, which means his arbitration goes off from that point. Almost everyone gets a raise in arbitration, even if they were mediocre or worse in the year that passed. That's just the way the process works. If a player's expected raise increases beyond what a team thinks they are worth, that's when non-tenders and trades happen.
Players generally get three years of arbitration, with salary increasing each year, though some Super Two players (two years-plus of service, but less than three) get an extra year of arbitration, meaning they make more money before becoming free agents.
Matusz is the only Super Two player on the O's this year, but since he's in his second year of eligibility and he's a reliever who has not been a closer, his salary is not in line for the kind of escalation that ultimately prompted the Jim Johnson trade.
Adding these agreements to the Orioles payroll for next season puts them at $82.8 million. This assumes an $8 million salary for Wieters. He may get less, or, if he goes to the hearing and wins, a little more. It looks like they'll end up within $2 million, and perhaps even within $1 million, of the MLBTR projected amount that anyone with an Internet connection could have added up back in October.
With all the other players settled, the O's can focus all their attention on settling with Wieters. Who do you think would be likely to prevail if the case went to a hearing? Do you think the team and Wieters will settle before it goes to the hearing?