It’s been a busy week for the Orioles front office. Besides “addressing” their need for a lefty bat in the outfield with the addition of Alex Presley, they’ve also gone out and signed not one, but TWO starting pitchers. Granted, one is Chris Tillman fresh off of a season in which he finished with an ERA+ of 55, but the moves still doubled the number of penciled-in starters from two to four. Don’t be fooled though by the Orioles suddenly having 80% of a rotation, the front office still has money to spend.
Heading into Opening Day last season, the Orioles were working with a franchise-record payroll of just over $164 million. That seems like a solid benchmark for 2018, but if the Orioles are dead set on competing, it will presumably go even higher. As Camden Chat’s Donovan Moore wrote about last fall, given recent trends in payroll, one could expect the Orioles to get up to around $175 million in 2018. Or at least that was the expectation back in November.
The long-term deals of Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Darren O’Day, and Adam Jones combine to equal $55.83 million in 2018. Add that to the $51.87 million dished out to the team’s seven arbitration-eligible players, and the O’s are up to a cool $107.7 million. In the last week, the team has now added Cashner and Tillman to major league deals at $6.5 million and $3 million before incentives, respectively.
With the team’s long-term deals, arbitration-eligible signings, and two free agent pitchers, the payroll is up to $117.2 million between 13 players. Filling out the remainder of the roster with 12 pre-arbitration players will cost an additional $8.4 million at a conservative salary of $700,000 per player. All that together brings an estimated Opening Day payroll of $125.6 million as it stands right now. That’s nearly $40 million less than the team dished out in 2017, and approximately $50 million less than Camden Chat predicted last November.
Holes in spending
So let’s say the team is sincere in its desire to compete in 2018. If so, they have at least $40 million left to spend. And if they’re not going to use it in-house to lock up any of their current players to long-term extensions, cough cough Schoop cough, there are certainly places to spend it on this year’s squad.
Right now the team’s projected starting rotation is set to earn a grand total of $17.9 million, assuming a salary of $2.25 million for Dylan Bundy. Captain obvious alert, that’s not a lot. Hell, it’s pretty much what we are paying Chris Davis to flirt with 200 strikeouts. It gets worse when you consider there will be 18 starters in the MLB this season making more than that single-handedly. And that number may soon become 19 once Arrieta is signed.
The front office likes to use its slogan of “Grow the arms, buy the bats,” and from a quick glance at the payroll, an outsider could probably be fooled into thinking that’s what’s going on here. That total of $17.9 million spent on the rotation would be a lot more realistic if we were truly growing the arms, but we’re not.
A majority of the starting staff, Cashner, Tillman, and presumably Castro, is setting up to consist of two cheap free agents and a pitcher that was DFA’ed by the Rockies last year. That’s not growing the arms or buying the arms. I know Ubaldo’s deal burned us, but it’s time to go buy an arm. The Orioles claim they’re out of the sweepstakes for Arrieta, Cobb, and Lynn, but I don’t see why, unless the plan is drastically cutting payroll this year.
Even if the Orioles happen to throw down $18 million on a pitcher they currently claim to be out of their price range, they’d still have plenty of money leftover to go get a left-handed outfielder and still fall under last season’s payroll.
Carlos Gonzalez is still out there and likely to take a 1-year deal, and the O’s really can’t be burned by a 1-year deal. Actually, maybe they can when it’s $4 million to Garrett Atkins and Justin Turner winds up being forced off the roster. It’s not like we had to start a Rule 5 selection at second base in the 2012 playoffs or anything, but I digress.
In the infield, Mike Moustakas is still out there as someone who could slide in at the suddenly Manny-less third base. The move would shift Beckham into a utility role as a true back-up shortstop, and open the possibility for a smooth transition back to short if Machado is flipped at the deadline for prospects.
Obviously these are entirely hypothetical moves, and if I had to put odds on it, I would say the Orioles only add one lefty bat for less than $10 million. But, if the front office is still sticking with their statement that the team is trying to compete in 2018, let’s see it. Because right now, it’s got to be hard to make that claim with a straight face after slashing payroll by $40 million.