In the last week, the Orioles have acquired four players and added them to the 40-man roster. They’ve also added three minor league players, and have 38.
Fans haven’t been terribly excited about the acquisitions of free agent right-handers Edgmer Escalona and Brad Brach, left-hander Kelvim De La Cruz or infielder Cord Phelps.
What the Orioles are doing is trying to create competition for the bullpen and the final positions on their roster. Last year, they acquired infielder Yamaico Navarro on the night that contracts had to be tendered.
He ended up playing briefly for the team, and last week signed with the New York Yankees organization.
The free agent market is too rich for the Orioles—right now. The deals for players that might have interested the team: Marlon Byrd (two years, $16 million), David Murphy (two years, $12 million) and especially Jason Vargas (four years, $32 million) are far above their perceived value.
The Orioles may have loved to have signed them, but not at those prices, and in the case of Vargas, not for that many years.
Free agency is still in its early days. Other than Brian McCann, what passes for the big names in this year’s market, are still out there, and nearly all of the smaller names are, too. Of the top 50 free agents as named by MLBTradeRumors, just 10 have signed deals.
There’s plenty of time to see if Scott Feldman, who reportedly has half the major leagues as suitors will accept a two-year deal or if Bronson Arroyo will consider an Orioles’ offer. The latest Arroyo news has the pitching-hungry Minnesota Twins going after him.
If the Orioles are going to offer contracts to all their arbitration-eligible players, that means big raises for Chris Davis, Jim Johnson and Matt Wieters. It also means healthy hikes for Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Bud Norris and Troy Patton.
That doesn’t guarantee that all will be with the Orioles next season. But after a survey of the available free agents, rewarding their own players, known commodities, say, Matusz and Patton, with raises is better business than signing an outsider to a lengthier and pricier contract.
The Orioles have recently added two left-handers to the 40-man, De La Cruz and Chris Jones, who was acquired in April’s deal with Atlanta for Luis Ayala. Perhaps Matusz or Patton will be heading elsewhere, but for now, they stay.
Keeping Davis, Hunter, Johnson, Matusz, Norris, Patton and Wieters means increasing the payroll. Davis, Johnson and Wieters could be paid between $25-30 million next season.
Even though they’re not yet arbitration-eligible, the Orioles may want to give Manny Machado and Chris Tillman more than token raises as a sign of goodwill.
Adding the four new players doesn’t cost much, but the Orioles are going to need big bucks to pay the players who’ve produced for them over the past two competitive seasons.
Last year, the Orioles ended the season with a payroll of over $100 million. According to BsaeballReference.com, the estimated payroll of players currently on the 40-man is $90.7 million, close to where they started 2013.
If the Orioles re-sign Feldman, Nate McLouth, Brian Roberts or an outside free agent or two, the payroll could be north of $100 million.
Roberts made $10 million in the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract, and if he returns, it will be for much less, perhaps $7 million less.
During the 2013 season, the Orioles added Feldman, Norris, Francisco Rodriguez and Michael Morse, taking on payroll. They’re still in the adding payroll mode.
They’re always looking for bargains, and they’ll probably keep a spot or maybe two open for the Dec. 12 Rule 5 draft.
In the past two years, the Orioles have added two useful players, Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland, from the draft.
If the Orioles sign more free agents, there are some players currently on the 40-man who could be dropped.
Jason Pridie, whose contract was purchased in the final week of the season after the team suffered a spate of injuries, is a candidate. So is Mike Belfiore, another left-hander who pitched just once in September.