As we approach the end of the playoffs, thoughts of the offseason start to arise. Putting aside the potential labor issues ahead of the sport (I tend to think things get worked out and there is no strike), let’s take a look at what things look like for the Orioles as we head into the start of free agency and the offseason in general.
First of all, let’s talk payroll. The Orioles, according to Cot’s Contracts, had an Opening Day payroll of roughly 57 million dollars for the 2021 season. The biggest question seemingly on the minds of Orioles fans is, when will the team start spending money and where will they take the payroll in 2022?
To answer that, let’s first take a look at payroll obligations. The Orioles owe money to five players that are no longer on the roster. Chris Davis, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day are owed deferred payments that total around 11 million dollars.
Then, you have to look at the roster. Barring trades or health issues, the following players are guaranteed to make the Opening Day roster: Ryan Mountcastle, Ramon Urias, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, John Means, Tanner Scott, Dillon Tate, Cole Sulser, Tyler Wells, Hunter Harvey, Jorge Mateo and Jorge Lopez. It’s also likely that Bruce Zimmermann and Keegan Akin will make the rotation. So, that is 14 players that basically are guaranteed a spot on the 2022 roster, again barring a trade or injury.
We also know Adley Rutschman will be up quickly, if not on Opening Day (new rules could change things there) and Grayson Rodriguez is likely up fast too. How quickly? Whoo knows at this point but it should be quickly, so the Orioles won’t make any moves that block either one.
Of the 16 players I listed, only three of them are arbitration eligible. Those three are Means, Lopez and Scott. MLB Trade Rumors has projected those three to receive about $5.5M total in arbitration costs. I think MLBTR can be way off on their arbitration projections but those numbers seem to be pretty safe bets. The rest of the 16 players I mentioned will all be making league minimum type wages. That number seemed to range in the 570-580K range in 2021. So, let’s just use 580K as the number for the remaining 13 players (it may be higher but it at least gives us a rough ballpark). That comes out to roughly $7.5M. So, we are talking about roughly $13M for 16 players and another 11ishM for the five players no longer here. That puts the payroll at about $24M. It also means we are down to 10 players needed to field the team.
Of those 10 players, the team needs a left side of the infield, a starting outfielder, DH, a catcher (two catchers likely to start the year before Adley is brought up), two more starters and some role players in the pen and on the bench. Of those 10 players, some of them will come from the organization. Maybe Austin Wynns is one of your catchers early on. I am guessing Ryan McKenna will make the roster as a 4th OF/pinch runner type guy. Perhaps they use one of the other young arms, say a guy like Kyle Bradish, to be a starter until Grayson is ready. In other words, I would expect to see more players making the league minimum than the ones I listed, thus continuing to keep the payroll under 30 million dollars for at least 75% of the roster.
As you can see, we are still looking at needing to add about $30M just to get to the payroll figure we are and that is probably for only 5-7 spots. You will also notice that names like Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander were not mentioned above. I am not saying the Orioles will non-tender them. In fact, I will say they won’t do that. I can’t imagine them making poor decisions like that. They are good enough, cheap enough and provide enough upside hat non tendering them is just a dumb move.
However, I do think they are more likely to be traded than kept, especially Santander. With guys like Kyle Stowers and Robert Neustrom knocking on the door, I think the Orioles will use Santander as a trade chip to get something else. I know what people will say too…what is Santander worth coming off a bad year where he had more injuries. I think it’s tough to say but I am not dismissing that he could bring back some value.
First of all, the upside is there. He can be a solid bat with a good glove and since his salary is low and he has more years of service time, that has value. That being said, I am not expecting top 100 prospects for him either. There have already been teams talking about wanting to add outfielders. The Marlins (who reportedly wanted Santander last offseason), Indians and Phillies have already been mentioned. I like Santander to any of those teams because of cost. We know the Marlins and Indians don’t want to spend a lot of money everywhere and the Phillies reportedly want to add one of the expensive SS, so they may want to cut costs elsewhere.
Each of those teams has some pieces to offer that could make sense. I would target Brian Anderson from the Marlins. He has a good defensive reputation at 3rd base, has a solid OBP and decent power. Like Santander, he is coming off a disappointing 2021 season and he has one less year of service time and costs more money than Santander does. A 1-1 swap makes sense.
In Philly, if they add a SS, they would likely love to get rid of the $15M owed to Didi Gregorius. That is obviously too much for him but he still has some value at SS and perhaps if the O’s take on his contract, they could also get Bryson Stott, a recent first-round pick who has hit well in the majors and is known to be a good glove at SS, who should stick at the position. He is a top 100 guy and while I don’t think they can get a top 100 guy for Santander on his own, perhaps they can if they also took on a bad contract. And the Indians have enough intriguing guys outside of their top eight or so prospects that Elias can probably make a deal that makes sense. If he can expand the deal and somehow get Nolan Jones from them, that would be optimal but not sure he can do that without Mullins or Means in the deal.
In general, I think the most likely deal the O’s can get for Santander is something along the lines of the Brian Anderson trade. That is, a player with a similar price point that is also coming off a disappointing season but, like Santander, carries solid upside. I don’t think the Orioles would take on Gregorius and I am not sure the prospects they would get would cause Mike Elias to pull the trigger although it’s possible.
Mancini is an interesting case because on the surface, you question what value he has. He will get about $6.5-7M in arbitration, his season ended poorly (for many explainable reasons) and he doesn’t provide a lot of value outside of his offense. He had a sub-1 WAR in 2021. On the other hand, you figure he has a better 2022 than 2021 and there are a lot of teams that could use a DH or first baseman that isn’t super expensive. If the NL adopts the DH in the new CBA, as is rumored, that only helps his value even more. A team like the Royals could be in play for Mancini. I do not expect to get a lot in return and I certainly wouldn’t trade him as a salary dump but I would guess that the O’s can get enough back to justify making the trade. Again, maybe something like I mentioned with the Brian Anderson/Santander deal would make sense for Mancini as well. Perhaps there is a starting pitcher out there that would make some sense.
One thing is for sure though and that is the Orioles have a lot of money that they can spend, if they choose to. I personally do not think they will and if the payroll goes above $60 million, I will be surprised. They certainly could go out and get any number of players they want but fans dreaming of Carlos Correa or Marcus Stroman or someone along those lines can keep doing just that, dream.
I think Stroman should be #1 on their list but they won’t pay that money. It’s fun to talk about and think about but the reality is that this team is not a desirable destination for FA pitchers, especially on short-term deals and the team just isn’t willing to outbid anyone yet for anyone substantial, no matter the position they play. Some think that is smart because the team isn’t ready to win yet. Personally, I think you get good players when you can and let them help you win sooner rather than later.
For the Orioles to add good players, I think trades are going to be the way to do it. The 40-man isn’t an issue right now but it could become an issue soon enough. By that I mean, you may start to lose players for nothing because you need the roister space. It makes sense to be aggressive with some of these young pitchers and outfielders that hold some value now and get some help for your big league club. I just can’t see how this team can justify another year of hoping for 65 wins. They need to start putting a representative product on the field.
How much will Mike Elias be allowed to spend? And can he spend the money any way he chooses? These are big questions that we likely won’t get publicly but will be obvious as the offseason goes on.
I have a feeling that, as a collective fan base, we will all be disappointed by the results.