Many Orioles fans believe the team doesn’t want to spend money to improve. That is incorrect.
The Orioles began the season ranked 16th of the 30 major league teams with a payroll of $89 million. That was an increase of nine percent over 2012’s payroll, and during the season the team added substantial salaries.
By the time the season ended, the Orioles’ payroll was north of $103 million, according to Baseballreference.com.
The Orioles added Scott Feldman ($6.75 million) halfway through the season, Bud Norris ($3 million) with two months left and Michael Morse ($6.75 million) with a month to go. They also traded for Francisco Rodriguez right after the All-Star break. K-Rod signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee in April, and his salary wasn’t disclosed, though it was probably in the $3-4 million range.
The Orioles payroll was larger than Atlanta’s ($96.7 million) and about the same as Cincinnati’s ($104.8 million).
Baltimore is the fifth smallest market in the major leagues. Only San Diego, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee are smaller.
Because of the Nationals’ move to Washington, the Orioles don’t draw nearly as well as they did before 2005. The two teams combined for more than 5 million paid admissions this season, showing there’s a great appetite for baseball in the region.
Three of the final four teams in the postseason (Dodgers, Red Sox and Tigers) are among the six highest spenders. The Orioles aren’t able to compete financially there, but the Cardinals’ payroll of $116.4 million is still in the relative neighborhood.
How do the Orioles stack up for next year?
The Orioles have just six players with guaranteed contracts. Nick Markakis ($15 million) Adam Jones ($13 million), J.J. Hardy ($7 million), Wei-Yin Chen $ ($4.07 million), Darren O’Day ($3.2 million) and Dylan Bundy ($1.25 million.)
Bundy was signed to a major league contract when he was drafted in 2011. Players drafted in 2012 and beyond can’t be signed to big league contracts.
Those six total $43.7 million. Add hefty increases for Matt Wieters, Chris Davis and Jim Johnson, and the total is between $65-70 million.
Wieters, who is two years away from free agency earned $5.5 million this year. Even if the team fails to complete a long-term deal with him this winter, he’ll still probably make between $7-8 million.
Davis is also two years from free agency. It seems likelier that he’ll be signed to a multi-year contract than Wieters, and his $3 million salary will probably at least triple.
Johnson is a year from free agency, and Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette surprised some with his declaration that the team would bring the reliever back in 2014.
After 101 saves in two seasons, and nine blown ones this year, Johnson, whose salary was $6.5 million in 2013 will probably earn around $8 million next year.
It’s not necessarily worrisome that nine players could account for close to $70 million next year.
Brian Roberts’ $10 million contract is ending, and if he returns, it’s likely to be for about 70 percent less. Jason Hammel’s $6.75 million comes off the books, and Morse and Rodriguez are unlikely to be back.
Chris Tillman made just over $500,000, and he’s not even eligible for arbitration yet. He’ll be cost-efficient. So will Manny Machado, who is two years away from arbitration, and made a little under $500,000.
The Orioles will want to reward Tillman and Machado for strong seasons, but don’t have to sign them to long-term deals yet.
Bud Norris will probably get a modest raise over his $3 million. Tommy Hunter ($1.82 million) will get a nice raise.
Kevin Gausman, Ryan Flaherty, Miguel Gonzalez, Danny Valenica and Troy Patton are all still under club control, though Valencia and Patton can go to arbitration. Brian Matusz ($1.6 million) may be traded.
If the team re-signs Roberts, Feldman and Nate McLouth, that could be an additional $15 million.
By then, the payroll could be reaching $100 million. If the team signs Davis and Wieters to long-term contracts, it could be higher.
Realistically, the Orioles probably can’t exceed the kind of payroll the Cardinals have, and when next season begins, their payroll could be $110 million.
The odds are the team won’t go after a pricey free agent. In Duquette’s first two winters, he shopped around, but never signed one. He’ll likely sign his own free agents first.
The Orioles’ winter free agent deals are likely to be modest ones. Fans may be disappointed, but the team’s philosophy is to build from within.
It’s probably necessary to sign either Davis or Wieters to extensions over the winter. If they can sign both, that will buy some goodwill.