clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Orioles have spent a lot of money this offseason and they've got more left to spend

The Orioles have spent the fifth-most money on free agents this offseason, and if the Yovani Gallardo rumors bear out, they've still got money left to spend. This sounds crazy at first, but it's not as surprising as it sounds.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Late last week, the Orioles settled their two remaining arbitration cases by agreeing to terms on 2016 contracts with lefty relievers Zach Britton and Brian Matusz. Now that both they and we know the money they're committed to paying the players who are already here, one important question remains: How much is left out to spend? There must be some of it or the rumors about Yovani Gallardo would not be so persistent.

At first glance, the idea that the O's might have more money still to spend seems crazy. According to Baseball Reference, they're on the hook for $139.3 million in player salaries for the 2015 season. This is about $21 million more than what Cot's Contracts recorded as the 2015 Opening Day salary. That's double the typical yearly increase going back to when Dan Duquette took over as GM of the O's.

Attendance receded slightly in 2015 compared to 2014. There was no playoff revenue this time around. A prudent outlook on the amount of future MASN money that will be rolling in should still include a gigantic question mark, because although the trial court granted them a limited victory in November, absent further court action, they're going to have to go back in front of the baseball panel that they believe screwed them the last time. Oh, and the guy who presided over the panel four years ago is now the commissioner of the league.

These do not sound like the sorts of things that would lead to a significant year-over-year payroll increase. This is not revenue that is expanding infinitely.

So, what gives? How could there suddenly be all of this money available to spend? There are several factors to consider for what might be letting the O's suddenly seem like big spenders. First and foremost is that the Baseball Reference estimated 2016 salary doesn't factor in money that has been deferred. The Orioles will have to pay out money to a few players eventually, but not in 2016, when they're contemplating signing another free agent.

The deferred money, according to information on Cot's, breaks down as follows:

Player 2016 Deferred $
Chris Davis $6 million
Ubaldo Jimenez $2.25 million
J.J. Hardy $2.16 million
Darren O'Day $1 million
Total $11.41 million

Note for Hardy: Cot's lists his deferred money as undisclosed. An article on MLB Trade Rumors at the time he signed his extension included the tidbit that $6.5 million of the salary is deferred. I've assumed the same amount of money was deferred from each year's salary, which may not be the case.

Just like that, our leap of $21 million, which seems so large that must be impossible to add more on top of that, has been reduced. If we also factor in the deferred money that Cot's didn't for 2015, we are now talking a jump from $114 million at the start of last year to $128 million committed for 2016 right now. It's still a big jump, but not one to where it's impossible to consider adding another $10 million on top of what's already on the books.

At this point, if they do sign a Gallardo or Fowler, it's not a stretch to think that the amount of money they've deferred from the 2016 books could pay for most or all of this year's salary for that caliber of player. If we're contemplating a one year contract, the money will fall right back off next year, so the O's won't sacrifice any future payroll flexibility.

Another factor in the Orioles recent payroll rise is that it comes from more than just local revenue. Going from 2013 to 2014, two new national TV contracts kicked in from ESPN and Fox that Wendy Thurm on Fangraphs wrote would provide an additional $25 million per year to teams right away compared to the old contracts.

The O's went from an Opening Day payroll of about $92 million in 2013 to about $106 million in 2014 before hitting the $114 million last year. While we have no way of knowing exactly what the Orioles chose to do with their extra money here, it seems like a strong possibility that they have been able to use that money to help fund payroll increases up until now.

They may have even socked some of it away from the past two years with an eye on bringing that money to bear in the future. An immediate problem with this line of thinking is that one must confront the question of why the O's didn't spend the extra last year, when it might have made a difference for retaining Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, players whose absence was heavily felt in 2015.

If this money exists, why not spend it before now?

To that, I would say that the O's made the defensible decision of thinking at the time that they could get by with players who'd cost less. The fact that the decision was demonstrably a catastrophic failure may have influenced their thinking for this offseason. Now instead of saying to themselves that they could manage to replace Matt Wieters, Darren O'Day, and Chris Davis, they've kept those players on board.

While it's true that hasn't done a dang thing to help the starting rotation, imagine how much worse off the O's would look without those three guys. True, you could say they might have gotten a different top tier position player free agent instead, like Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, and maybe they would have, but budget options to replace O'Day or Wieters wouldn't look so great.

A possible third factor in the O's payroll situation is one that was hinted by various Orioles beat writers during the whole Davis chase. Perhaps O's owner Peter Angelos was willing to spend some extra money on Davis that wouldn't count against the already-established baseball operations budget. It's money the team will still spend, but if it essentially comes directly from the Angelos coffers because he likes Davis hitting dingers for his team, that is another explanation for how the O's can be committed to paying all this money and still able to add more.

In essence, this sort of thing is exactly what the Angelos-bashing crowd has wanted him to do all along. There is some reason to believe he's done it at least in part with Davis.

None of these reasons are to say that the O's will definitely sign Gallardo or Fowler or whoever. The O's might ultimately decide to hold on to the #14 draft pick no matter what bargain presents itself. The demands of Gallardo and Fowler might not come down into the range of money that the O's have left available to them. Still, it's interesting that, as high as the payroll already seems to be, the O's can at least think about those guys this late in the offseason. When you put it all together, they might still be able to find a way to improve this year's team on the free agent market..

The idea of the Orioles payroll ballooning has sounded like a crazy idea all offseason, but it's not as crazy as it sounds. Between deferred money, national TV revenue, and possible "extra" money kicked in to the budget for Davis, the O's might still have some room to maneuver after all.