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The Orioles need to add two starters for next year, so how will they pay for them?

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If Peter Angelos approves a $180 million payroll for 2018, it's possible the Orioles could add quality pitchers to the starting rotation via free agency.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

With just a weekend of games left before completing an Orioles season to forget, it’s time to take a close look at how the 2018 team might be comprised. And like most things, a good place to start is the money.

It’s not my dough, but for the sake of argument let’s assume the 2018 budget will represent a 10 percent increase above the 2017 Opening Day payroll.

That would result in a $180 million payroll compared to this year's $164,326,172 in Opening Day salaries, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. There’s no guarantee that owner Peter Angelos would agree to that jump in payroll after a tough 2017 season, but it’s consistent with what has been done for the past several years. The O’s payroll has gone up by at least $10 million per year since Dan Duquette has arrived.

With only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman certain to be a part of the 2018 rotation, it’s no secret that the Orioles need to add starting pitching from outside the organization this offseason. They need two starters, but would they have the funds to sign both through free agency?

It’s anticipated that the cost to add two free agent starters along the lines of Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Jason Vargas would be in the $30-$35 million per year range, according to Spotrac.com. Of course, the market could change and these are projections only, but their market values are listed at $17 million for Lynn, $19 million for Cobb, and $14 million for Vargas.

Assuming a $180 million payroll and subtracting projected salaries due to returning players, how much money would be left over to pursue free agents? The following projections regarding the 2018 roster assume that:

  • no trades or long-term contract extensions (hint, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop) are made,
  • the Orioles decide not to pick up options on Wade Miley or J.J. Hardy,
  • Welington Castillo decides to refuse his player option and becomes a free agent,
  • the Orioles decide to part ways with Ryan Flaherty.

Committed salaries:

Four players – Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day – are guaranteed $62,452,000 in 2018 salaries. Rounding to $62.5 million, that leaves $117.5 million for 21 more players.

Arbitration eligible salaries:

Once hot stove season kicks off in earnest, the MLB Trade Rumors website puts out usually-reliable projections for arbitration salaries. For now, hopefully these get us close enough to estimate.

  • Manny Machado – $20 million
  • Zach Britton – $15 million
  • Jonathan Schoop – $10 million
  • Kevin Gausman – $8 million
  • Brad Brach – $5 million
  • Tim Beckham – $2 million
  • Caleb Joseph – $1.2 million

These total $61.2 million, bringing the current total to $123.7 million for 11 players. That leaves $56.3 million for the remaining 14.

There figure to be ten pre-arbitration players on next year’s team. Just for a ballpark guess, these salaries would come out to about $7 million, assuming Dylan Bundy doesn’t get much of a raise beyond this year’s $1.6 million.

That leaves $49.3 million to sign four more to fill out the 25-man roster ­­­– three starters and one position player. If the O’s get lucky, they might have a couple million more to work with if some of these arbitration estimates are aggressive towards the player.

Perhaps Chris Tillman could sign a one-year deal at about $4 million and try to earn a shot at redemption from his lost 2017 season.

That would leave more than $45 million for three free agents, two of whom could possibly be a combination of Cobb, Lynn and Vargas, based upon projected costs listed above.

Of course, there are so many other factors to come into play as the offseason progresses that could impact this scenario. Manny Machado’s future is the main one. The sooner the Orioles know if they have a chance at signing the superstar infielder, the better, so they can move on to other options that may be available.

Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that Machado will choose free agency after the 2018 season, but that’s certainly not set in stone. One reason to think Manny could stay in Baltimore is that Angelos has shown a willingness to shell out the big bucks to retain players already wearing the orange and black.

It seems he feels a loyalty to those who have been part of the team’s fabric and is willing to go the extra mile to keep them from entering free agency or signing elsewhere once they do. He’s proven that in each of the last three years.

Hardy signed a $40 million contract extension during the 2014 postseason prior to becoming a free agent at season’s end. Chris Davis signed the next offseason for seven years at $161 million, and Mark Trumbo inked a three-year $37.5 million deal before this past season.

Looking back, one could make the argument that none of these contracts were wise management decisions, given the disappointing returns from all of them. And of course, the Orioles chose not to make strong attempts at re-signing Nelson Cruz or Andrew Miller before the 2015 season, and both have performed at exemplary levels since.

But the fact remains that Angelos has guaranteed a payout totaling nearly $240 million for three offensive players.

Still, that’s a far cry from the likely $300 million or more Machado would command. But he’s the only one to be drafted and developed by the organization and if he stays healthy and keeps performing at this level through his prime, he could find himself on a Cooperstown path as his career goes on.

Either way, now that the 2017 season is all but over, let the hot stove talk begin. Whether they pay big money for it or not, the Orioles desperately need to improve their starting rotation.