The Orioles are not a team that goes wild and crazy on the free agent market, bringing in all manner of players from all over at great cost. Even last year’s surprising splurge on the payroll mostly just ended up being about keeping their own free agents, Chris Davis and Darren O’Day.
The coming crop of free agents is not an impressive one, so don’t expect another spending spree. The Orioles generally don’t win bidding wars, they just collect who’s left from a surplus. One of the best names available will probably be almost-Oriole Dexter Fowler. He won’t be coming here this offseason either.
Another reason the Orioles won’t do much this offseason, and wouldn’t be likely to do much even if the market was flush with good players, is that, once again, the money they seem to have available will be sucked up by arbitration raises to their existing crop of players. MLB Trade Rumors released their annual arbitration projections on Monday, giving an idea of what it will cost the O’s to keep their talent for next year.
Having players who earn these raises is a good problem for the team to have. The Orioles would not have made it into the postseason without Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton all doing the things that they did this year. That was great for the 2016 Orioles and was a big part of why the team was able to defy the expectations of every pundit.
The 2017 Orioles will be paying the price, however. Britton, Machado, and Tillman are all projected to end up with salaries over $10 million for next season. If the MLBTR estimate is right - and it’s generally very close - and if nothing unexpected happens, these three players will cost about $15 million more next year than they did last year.
This is not an unfamiliar place for the O's to find themselves. The story has been similar for the last several offseasons, when it was players like Davis, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones whose salaries were going up due to past performance.
Maybe you are a person who looked at the 2016 performance of Wieters and his season salary of $15.8 million and started to think of all the things the Orioles might do to improve the team with that money once it came off the books. Wieters is not even officially a free agent yet and that money is essentially already spoken for in raises to three players.
Some other money will be clearing off the books too, like Mark Trumbo’s $9.1 million and the $5.75 million to Pedro Alvarez. That’s enough money where the O’s could actually do something with it... like pay for the arbitration raises of the other seven arbitration-eligible players. The players below are listed in declining order by service time.
Arbitration salaries: 2016 vs. 2017 projected
|Player||2016 Salary||2017 Projected||Raise|
If you sum up the raise column, that comes up to $24,663,500. So the O's have about $32 million in big salaries coming off the books, and their arbitration raises will eat up all but about $7 million of that money. You can't buy very much free agent for $7 million.
There are a couple of names on there who could end up getting non-tendered, but that won't offer much in the way of salary relief. You probably won't lose much sleep if McFarland isn't back. That doesn't even clear a million. And maybe you've seen enough of Flaherty and want his $1.7 million wiped off the books. That's fine, but keep in mind that the 2015 O's spent $2.4 million on Everth Cabrera. A Flaherty replacement could actually cost more money than you'd save.
Oh yeah, and it's not only the arbitration-eligible players who will be making more money next season. Yovani Gallardo's salary goes up by $2 million. J.J. Hardy gets an extra $1.5 million. Darren O'Day gets another $1 million. Even Hyun Soo Kim will be making $1.4 million more, and Ubaldo Jimenez adds $500,000 over his 2016 salary for next year.
That counts for most of your $7 million right there, and we haven't even thought about the $8.75 million going to Wade Miley next season. Barring some kind of trade to relieve one of these bigger salary numbers, next year's Orioles are already going to cost more than this year's Orioles did before they even set out to try to fill any of the holes that will be left by their departing free agents, let alone any of the places where there were holes that already needed to be plugged on the roster.
The Orioles could always end up surprising us again by spending a lot more money than expected. That's what they did this past offseason, adding nearly $30 million in payroll over the 2015 team. That increase came at a cost to fans, however, with ticket prices going up in the realm of 25%. Something similar happening this coming hot stove season would be a big surprise.
Fortunately, the weak free agent crop means that the O's won't be missing out on much by not being able to spend this time around. Dan Duquette is going to have to get creative to fill the gaps that will be left on the O's team. He has done this before. Yet even if he's successful in doing that, it's not going to make for a very interesting offseason for O's fans.