For the first time in a while, the Orioles approach the coming offseason with the knowledge that they have money to spend on players who aren't already committed to the team next year. That's yet to be the case in the Dan Duquette era as, up until now, though payroll has gone up from each year to the next, much of those increases have been tied to arbitration raises.
Even with all the payroll coming off of the books, however, it seems likely that the O's won't be able to address every one of their concerns. There are just too many to address all at once. The pending free agency of Chris Davis is significant. There is a very real need for at least one starting pitcher, probably for more than one. The O's shuffled through corner outfielders without ever finding an answer this year, meaning they'll probably need to spend money trying to find the answer to that problem as well.
In an article on MASN yesterday, Steve Melewski raises a frightening specter:
But the Orioles have a few keys things to consider - not only for next year, but several years to follow after that. They need to add to their starting rotation, preferably a top-of-the-rotation talent. They need to sign Manny Machado to a long-term contract at some point. Can they sign Davis, add a frontline starter and lock up Machado for the future? Can they truly do all three with a middle-of-the-pack payroll? Can they even do two of the three?
I suspect if you gave Orioles fans the choice between locking up Machado long-term and retaining the services of Davis, more people than not would choose Machado. The problem with raising this connection at all is that it is a false choice. The Orioles will not be in a position this offseason where they must choose one or the other.
It may be that the Orioles will end up with only one or the other of these things done this offseason. There are compelling reasons, given the other holes facing the team, for the Orioles to choose not to retain Davis. Suggesting that a limited amount of money available in this offseason is the reason why both cannot be done is an argument that gives little credit to the intelligence of fans.
Both a new Davis contract and a Machado extension would involve significant financial commitment on the part of the Orioles. That is where the similarities end. A new Davis contract would cost the Orioles immediately. A new Machado contract would also cost the Orioles - eventually.
For the Orioles in the near term, Machado is going to be an increasing expense for them regardless of whether or not he inks a new contract. Since he's got three years of service time under his belt, he'll be getting an arbitration raise every year for the next three seasons. Being as Machado is a very good player, with a Gold Glove, All-Star appearances, and a 35 home run/20 stolen base season under his belt, those raises will be significant.
Yet even the first of those significant raises is only projected to take Machado from a salary of about half a million dollars in 2014 to about $6 million in 2015. That's a big jump, but not a big enough jump that it will squeeze out any of their other priorities for next year. Indeed, speculation that puts the O's as having $45-50 million to spend on free agents already factors in Machado's and other arbitration raises.
The big Chris Davis questions
Even as that Machado number could jump to $12 million in 2017 and $20 million or more in 2018, again, these are things the Orioles will contend with whether or not there's a new contract. And when it comes to that large third-year arbitration salary in 2018, both Ubaldo Jimenez and J.J. Hardy will come off the payroll prior to that season.
The idea of an ultra-expensive Machado is a potential problem for the 2019 Orioles and beyond. The Orioles at present have no one contractually committed for that season. It's even beyond the contracts of Adam Jones, Buck Showalter, and Duquette. So it's not like they need to wring their hands wondering about how they might be able to afford to keep their superstar player locked up long-term. All the money they need is right there.
That they have this flexibility at present doesn't mean they should just irresponsibly sign Davis to a new contract at any cost and extend Machado for infinite years and dollars. If they spend recklessly, they would run into problems eventually. Those problems will not strike in the short term, when a lot of the nucleus of the 2014 division champion team still remains.
It's actually possible that a Machado contract extension could offer the Orioles a little bit more financial flexibility over the next few seasons. If Machado is willing to accept some backloading beyond what's already present as a new contract mirrors arbitration raises, the Orioles could be able to get him for a bit less money in 2015, 2016, and 2017 as his contract escalates.
Just to throw around some numbers, if a contract extension set him up for $5 million, $10 million, and $15 million over the next three seasons before getting more expensive, that's likely millions of dollars saved over if they just went year-to-year in arbitration. They would pay for that in time. They would not pay for it in the next three seasons, which is when most of the money committed to this offseason's free agents will be paid out.
The Orioles can't bring back Davis and do everything else that they want this offseason. That's the reality of it. But they can lock up Machado for as long as they want and do just about anything else they want. Don't let anybody tell you any differently.