Earlier this week, I wrote an article that a lot of people didn’t like. They didn’t like the message of the team not spending, and me being OK with that plan of action.
Of course, that wasn’t exactly what I said, and my words were largely misinterpreted by many.
Part of my message was just the thought that O’s fans have to come back to reality on what this organization is likely to do. Ownership just isn’t likely to go and start handing out nine-figure contracts. Whether we think they should or not (I will get into this later) is irrelevant. Part of doing these thought exercises of what the team should or should not do should be grounded in what the team is LIKELY to do, and we need to consider how they are running things.
It’s always fun to talk about this stuff as if it were a fantasy team but personally, I try to be more realistic.
Mike Elias came from a franchise that just doesn’t spend on huge, long term free agency deals. The Houston Astros currently have just two nine-figure deals on their roster. Alex Bregman signed a 5/$100M extension and Jose Altuve signed a 7/$163M extension. These were both home grown guys who signed, relatively speaking, team-friendly deals. Lance McCullers has the next biggest contract, which was an extension for 5/$85M. Again, a home grown guy that they kept.
When you look at Houston’s free agent signings over the years, the two biggest deals were Brian McCann for 5/$85M and Josh Reddick for 4/$52M. Many of their free agent signings are one or two-year deals. The other larger contracts they had were acquired via trade. Guys like Justin Verlander (whom they later extended) and Zack Greinke are examples of larger contracts that they took on by trading from the depth of prospects they had.
When I talked about what I thought the Orioles would do, this is the backdrop of things. Arguably the best and most successful franchise in the sport doesn’t do what many O’s fans want (and ironically, one of the things the Astros did was let Carlos Correa walk for a rookie, unproven SS…that seems to have turned out OK for them). That franchise doesn’t let the guys they want walk out the door, but they also don’t go crazy in the area that almost always fails…free agency.
What the Astros have done is use free agency to fill in some gaps on shorter-term deals.
Trades and building the farm system are what the Astros have done to build the team overall. This is exactly what I discussed earlier this week and knowing the Baltimore ownership group and knowing Elias came from Houston, we should all expect the exact same thing.
Now, I know what some are thinking. You are thinking that the Astros have a very high payroll and that’s true (they also are in a larger market) but that payroll is largely very high because of guys that they have kept and players who are in arbitration years. It is the same thing that happened to the Orioles in the 2010s. You see a steady increase in the payroll and while there were some free agent signings in there that helped push the payroll up, the big increases came as players hit their arbitration years and got significant raises.
The Orioles will have many impactful, everyday players that aren’t even close to hitting their first arbitration year. They have other impact guys that are just getting into arbitration. The payroll is just going to be low because of this. That is just a reality. You don’t spend money just to spend, especially when you have cheaper and younger options that are just as good. I don’t need the payroll to say a certain number.
Getting back to my previous article, it really came down to a few key points that people didn’t like. One point was that I am not for spending huge money on one of the four shortstops that are available. That point I can’t be talked out of. There is just too much going against doing that and I don’t see it as a logical thing to do at all. The O’s have too many options, both short and long term, to commit huge dollars to that position. And that is before getting into each individual player, how they are about to (or already are) declining or how most nine-figure deals fail. Spending on a large nine-figure deal on a position you are loaded with isn’t something smart organizations do. That is something the Yankees do and then they wonder why they don’t win titles and have to pay the luxury tax and things like that.
The second point where I have received some push back was that I am not in favor of signing Carlos Rodon. Let me start this off by making it clear that not signing Rodon has zero to do with his talent. This is a guy who is a true ace and would be the best pitcher on almost every staff in baseball. He is a dominating starter with plus stuff and has elite new and old school stats.
The problem with Rodon is health.
If you told me right now that the O’s could get 600 innings out of him over the next five years, I would sign him without hesitation. The problem is, I think it’s more likely some team only gets 400 innings out of him and that’s my issue. He has had a shoulder surgery and Tommy John surgery. The shoulder surgery is the bigger concern but it’s been about five years since the surgery, so he has clearly come back from that well. That being said, he has also missed time twice since that surgery, including in 2021, for shoulder issues. He has never had a five-year stretch that comes close to throwing 600 innings and he only has about 850 innings in his eight seasons. Thinking he will be healthier in his 30’s than his 20’s is likely foolish.
The other component to this is how does ownership react if they actually do want to sign him and he does get hurt? This franchise was gun shy after the Chris Davis debacle. They have always been hesitant to sign large deals and when they blow up in their faces, they cower into a hole and wait for them to end (see Ubaldo Jimenez).
With all of that being said, there are some points to make here that are both true and logical. Point one is that the payroll is so low that the O’s can afford to take a risk here. I have argued in the past that the team right now is like an NFL team with a stud QB playing on a rookie deal. That is the best commodity in sports because of the importance of that position and the salary cap implications. The Orioles are in a similar situation. With so many cheap guys, taking on a big contract (even if it completely blows up in your face) doesn’t really hurt.
The second point is that most pitchers just don’t throw a lot of innings anymore. You rarely see pitchers qualify for ERA titles for more than a few seasons in a row. You are only going to see around 30 starters a year throw 180 innings or more. So, you can make the argument that with the game changing the way it is, it’s fine to pay $25-30 million and “only” get 150 or so innings, provided that they are elite innings.
The final point and perhaps the most important one, is that elite talent wins you games. Rodon is elite. I am in the camp that feels the Orioles need to add at least one and maybe two starters to the rotation. Depending on the length of the contracts, guys like Chris Bassitt and Nathan Eovaldi are good options, in my opinion. For over a year now, I have been talking about trading for Pablo Lopez. These are good pitchers. They are largely better than what the Birds have now and make the team better.
However, none of them are aces. Rodon is an ace, and you can argue that if you are going to spend the money, you should spend it on the elite, not the good to very good.
I can get behind all of these arguments. They are all logical and make sense, but I still don’t see ownership signing off on it. I still worry that even if they did, they will allow the deal to effect how they conduct business long-term, should Rodon get hurt and miss a lot of time.
Those are the elephants in the room to me.
If the Orioles were to sign Rodon, I think they should get creative with the contract. I would heavily front load the deal for two years and offer an opt out after that (they probably have to offer an opt out anyway, which I think is another obstacle for ownership).
Let’s say he signs for 5/$150M. In that case, I’d like them to give him $90M of that in the first two years.
If he is pitching well, he will opt out. I would personally be fine with that. Those are likelier to be years where he is hurt, and if he has been hurt and decides to stay with the team, at least his salary will be lower as cheaper players start to get into those arbitration seasons.
We are seeing more and more contracts set up this way and I think that would be best.
Overall, I still don’t see this happening. I won’t blame the Orioles, either.
That being said, signing Rodon obviously has merit. If ownership accepts the risk and won’t go into hibernation if the deal doesn’t work out, it would be great to add a talent like Carlos Rodon.