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Projecting the Orioles 2018 opening day payroll

The 2017-2018 free agent class has been slow to sign so far. What kind of money do the O’s have to play with, anyway?

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Getting inside the heads of the top Orioles brass is difficult to do. Sometime that’s because their decisions seem uneven and even erratic. Mostly, it’s because they’re smarter than you or me.

When tackling a project like projecting next year’s opening day payroll, there is a litany of potentially unknown factors that could completely skew the result away from what is practicable to predict.

For example: what if the Orioles are saving to try and make a run at Machado next offseason? What if they know the “window” is slamming shut after 2018, so they’ll hike the payroll up by an unprecedented amount? What if Angelos & Co. think the “window” is already closed, and are ready to go “full Astros?”

None of these scenarios are likely. That doesn’t mean they absolutely won’t happen. The opening day payroll in 2015 was roughly $118.98MM. 2016 saw a hike of $28.71MM, all the way to $147.69MM. Nobody saw that coming.

Anyhow, free agent rumors are all fun and games unless you get a sense of what your team can actually afford to spend—then the rumors are speculatively informed fun and games. Until the hot stove heats up, let’s take a stab at this thing.

2017 saw the Orioles sporting an opening day payroll of $164.33MM, which was an increase of $16.64MM from 2016’s-then-record-high. There’s no doubt that the recent trend has been: “up.”

Let’s visualize what that trend has looked like over the past ten seasons, and for fun let’s compare that to the MLB average trend:

The MLB average trend is more-or-less linear, whereas the Orioles trend started converging on the average payroll amount as soon as they started winning again—after the 2012 season. The large hikes in payroll to begin 2016 and 2017 took the Orioles to above average payrolls, and broke the streak of ranking 14th overall for 2013, 2014, and 2015, increasing them to 12th and 10th respectively.

With a couple of exceptions, the O’s payroll has increased year-over-year across the last ten seasons. Take a look:

The last row averages the increases since 2008 at $10.79MM/year. Using that number, Orioles fans can potentially expect the Opening Day payroll to $175.12MM, right? Maybe!

Great! So what does all of this mean for the Orioles’ capacity to sign free agents? I want them, and I want them now! Well... this actually bodes pretty well.

Granted the Orioles have some gaping holes to fill, but with commitments to Welington Castillo, J.J. Hardy, Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, Seth Smith, Chris Tillman, et. al. coming off the books, combined with arbitration increases and pre-existing 2018 payroll commitments, the O’s presently have $122.73MM already locked-down for the coming year.

The good news? If the Birds do increase their payroll by their 10-season average moving into 2018, that leaves roughly $52.39MM to spend in free agency before the first pitch (hey maybe the person who throws it will fall under this umbrella!) of the season is thrown.

Maybe the Orioles will actually sign someone or someones of consequence. Maybe not. Only time will tell.

What do you think?

*All payroll figures courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. All graphics my own.