Today is the day that teams must decide whether to tender contracts to all their arbitration-eligible players. This is the so called “non-tender deadline,” because players that are not tendered a contract will become free agents.
Unlike in previous years, there is not much drama with the Orioles arbitration-eligible players. They are going to tender contracts to all of their guys. That's a group that consists of: Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach, Tim Beckham, and Caleb Joseph.
The only real interesting plot around any of these players is whether the Orioles might decide to trade Britton for some payroll relief now that he's projected by MLB Trade Rumors to get a $12.2 million salary in arbitration. This would be similar to the O's decision to trade Jim Johnson prior to the 2014 season in order to get some salary relief.
There's little indication that any similar fate awaits Britton. Appearing on the first Orioles Hot Stove Show of the year on Thursday night, O's GM Dan Duquette signalled that he wasn't looking to rebuild.
On the other side are the possible new free agents thrown into the market by other teams wanting to free up payroll and roster spots. The Orioles struck gold with this market last off season after Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks.
The list of potential candidates is lackluster, but does have a few intriguing names.
I have focused mostly on the pitchers because the position players are underwhelming, and the Orioles do not have many openings on the roster as currently constructed. The first name that pops out is the ever-injured Drew Smyly who is coming off Tommy John surgery and is not really slated to pitch until late in the 2018 season. That's not an immediate rotation solution.
Another name on that list is A.J. Griffin. Griffin has spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues with the A’s and Texas Rangers. The soon-to-be 30-year-old right-hander posted a 5.94 ERA last season with the Rangers over 18 games and 15 starts. The year prior he posted a 5.07 ERA in 23 starts. His best years were by far in Oakland back in 2012 and 2013.
Griffin isn’t all that exciting a pitcher, but he has a record of some success and has a career ERA+ of 96 which is exactly the kind of pitcher the Orioles desperately needed in 2017. Griffin is projected to make $3 million in arbitration, but it is likely the Orioles could take a flier on him for simply a 40-man roster spot and the league minimum.
One more possible pitcher who's expected to hit the market is Mike Fiers, seen most recently on the world champion Astros. Similar to Griffin, he is a right-handed pitcher and has not posted a good season for a while. He posted a 5.52 ERA in 28 starts in 2017 and lead the league in batters hit by pitch. He was not much better in 2016, posting a 4.48 ERA in 30 starts while leading the league in wild pitches.
However, in 2015 and 2014, Fiers was an above-average starter. He has a career ERA+ of 95 which is not exciting, but is exactly the type of pitcher the Orioles could have used last season. Fiers is projected to make $5.7 million in arbitration, which is why he is likely to be non-tendered. The Orioles could have him for significantly less, but there may be a few suitors for the 32-year-old.
Lastly is another Rangers pitcher: Nick Martinez. At 27 years old, Martinez is the youngest of the bunch. The right-handed-pitcher has made 88 appearances over parts of four major league seasons which includes 68 starts. He made 23 appearances last season and 18 starts, pitching 111.1 innings with a 5.66 ERA. He was just as bad in 2016 posting a 5.59 ERA in 12 appearances and only 5 starts.
In 2015, at the age of 24, Martinez did throw 125 innings over 21 starts, posting a 3.96 ERA. He has a career ERA+ of 90, so he is a step-down career wise from Smyly, Griffin, and Fiers, but he is much younger.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Martinez for $2 million in arbitration, but if he is non-tendered the Orioles could probably sign him to a minor league deal and see what he brings in Spring Training.
Today will likely not mean all that much for the Orioles current roster, but it does not mean that opportunity does not exist for the Orioles to get better. None of the names are likely to be exciting, but there are pitchers out there that would serve as an upgrade to a truly dreadful Orioles rotation. Either way, look out tomorrow evening to see who gets non-tendered because they may be a future Oriole.