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The Orioles agreed on 2024 salaries with most of their arbitration-eligible players

Five of the 13 arbitration-eligible Orioles, including Austin Hays, appear to be headed for the hearing process

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game One Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Orioles entered Thursday’s deadline for teams and arbitration-eligible players to agree on 2024 contracts with 13 guys still to sign. When the 1pm deadline came and went, the team had worked out contracts with at least eight of them.

MLB.com Orioles beat reporter Jake Rill indicated that there are unresolved contracts are Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb. Later on Thursday, MLB Network’s Joel Sherman reported that there was also not an agreement with Cionel Pérez, and The Baltimore Sun’s Jacob Calvin Meyer added that the team also didn’t agree with Austin Hays and Ryan O’Hearn.

This contract deadline was originally scheduled for Friday. Late on Wednesday, there was an announcement that the league and the player’s union agreed to move it to today instead. It’s weird, but ultimately it doesn’t change much. This is one of those processes where it’s the deadline that spurs almost all of the activity, so the change just set up a flurry of activity today instead of tomorrow.

The players and their 2024 contracts, in order of reported agreement:

In general, players become eligible for salary arbitration after they’ve played for three years, which means they get three years of arbitration salaries before becoming a free agent. Players get raises based on how they have performed to comparable players at a comparable amount of service time.

Except when a whole season is missed due to injury, there’s usually at least a small raise. Means, for instance, will get about $350,000 more than in 2023 after making just four starts. Had he not needed Tommy John surgery, he might be up to a $10 million or more salary by now. That’s not how things have worked out.

Some players, such as Santander for the Orioles, hit what’s known as “Super Two” status where they are eligible after two-plus years. You can think of this as when their two-plus years is close enough to round up to three years. These guys go on to four years of arbitration instead of three, so their salaries have the potential to escalate more. Wells, who is hitting his first year of arbitration this year, is also a Super Two.

This is not a process with a lot of surprises. Teams and agents have enough data at their disposal to know what to expect. The Orioles could be confident of a range of possible salaries for all of these players back in November when they decided to tender them 2024 contracts. The payroll plans, whatever they are, will not be changed by any of today’s settlements.

MLB Trade Rumors has an arbitration projection model that comes pretty close for nearly every player. See what their model predicted for the Orioles last October. Means, projected for nearly $6 million, is a rare big miss.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported on the salary figures exchanged by the five Orioles and the team:

  • Austin Hays - $6.3 million / Orioles offer - $5.85 million
  • Ryan O’Hearn - $3.8 million / $3.2 million
  • Danny Coulombe - $2.4 million / $2.2 million
  • Cionel Pérez - $1.4 million / $1.1 million
  • Jacob Webb - $1 million / $925,000

In the past, there would frequently be settlements after this point, using the numbers submitted by each side to reach a midpoint. Teams have generally adopted what’s dubbed a “file and trial” approach, meaning they take players to a hearing if things get to the point of filing numbers. They’re committed to the bit. That’ll be demonstrated especially if the Orioles and Webb end up in a hearing over a difference of $75,000.

In an arbitration hearing, the team, or a lawyer being paid by the team, basically talks about how much the player sucks and why he doesn’t deserve the money he’s asking for, with the player there in the room. When it’s a star player who fans would like to see kept long-term, that’s an awkward situation.

On the other side, the player’s agent talks about how awesome the player is and how he’s comparable to higher-paid players rather than lower-paid ones. The arbitrator then hands down a decision for one side’s figure or the other based on who made the better case.

Teams are pretty good at winning, which gives them a bit of negotiating leverage with the “file and trial” approach. I’m surprised to see that they’ve hit this stage with five players, including Hays, who figures to be a key guy over the next couple of seasons. Maybe it will end up being a less uncomfortable process than it can sometimes be, or maybe the Orioles are poisoning the well with several players over what amounts to trivial money for a baseball team’s payroll.

Elsewhere, of potential relevance to those dreamers that the Orioles might trade prospects for a top-end starting pitcher, the Chicago White Sox and Dylan Cease agreed on an $8 million contract for the 2024 season. Cease will be in line for a bigger raise for 2025, his final year before becoming a free agent.