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Olney - Orioles Facing a Run of Tough Choices


TonySoprano

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The Orioles' payroll grew from $67 million in 2009 to $92 million in 2013, and because of raises built into signed contracts for the likes of Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, and because Baltimore has more than a half-dozen arbitration-eligible players, the payroll could easily climb to $100 million without a significant upgrade.

This goes a long way to explaining why Orioles GM Dan Duquette cast a wide net at the GM meetings last week, encouraging teams to present their best offers on catcher Matt Wieters. This goes a long way to explaining why rival front offices are speculating the Orioles might be cornered into a tough choice of cutting free Jim Johnson, a closer with 101 saves over the past two seasons, by not tendering him a contract.

Baltimore's offseason will more closely resemble a typical Rays winter, with payroll management a central concern. So although it?s always fun to wonder if Baltimore might get into serious bidding for the likes of Carlos Beltran, Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez, the Orioles' greater concerns are internal.

And they start with Chris Davis and Wieters. Davis is relatively new to stardom, finishing third in the AL MVP race in 2013 with 53 homers, after hitting 33 homers in 2012.

Because it has taken some time for the first baseman to establish himself, he has accumulated just over four years of service time, meaning he's eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. According to MLBTradeRumors.com, Davis is in line to make about $10 million in arbitration this winter.

While the Orioles have had at least some internal talks about a long-term deal with the first baseman, the gap between what they could be willing to pay him and what he could be worth on the open market seems to be growing.

Similarly, they've had no luck in working out a deal with Wieters, whom they drafted and developed and relied upon as a leader. Wieters, 27, has been a decent offensive player, hitting 67 homers over the past three seasons and posting OPS marks of .778, .764 and .708 in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively.

The Orioles would like to sign Wieters to a long-term deal, but the team seems to be speaking a different language in negotiations. The counter it received before the 2013 season was something in the range of the eight-year, $184 million deal signed by Joe Mauer. Baltimore will not do that deal.

Wieters is represented by Scott Boras, who typically takes his clients into free agency, and is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.

Davis' agent: Scott Boras. And Davis, too, is eligible for free agency after 2015.

Wieters is in line to make about $8 million in arbitration in 2014, when Markakis will make $15 million, in the final guaranteed year of his current contract, and when Jones will earn $13 million. J.J. Hardy is in the last year of his contract and is set to earn $7 million. So the Orioles could have more than $50 million in salary to just those five players -- none of whom is a starting pitcher.

Officials in other organizations are doing the Orioles' math, as they evaluate trade possibilities, and they figure that something has to give; they figure that Duquette will have to slash somewhere. Maybe the Orioles would actually dump Wieters if they would get a decent prospect in return. In a winter in which the prices for free-agent outfielders are rocketing northward, maybe they can find a taker for Markakis, who is an emotional leader for Baltimore.

Some executives look at Johnson as perhaps the most painless cut. The Orioles' closer was extraordinary in 2012, posting 51 saves, and while his performance regressed in 2013, he still had 50 saves and is in line to make about $10.8 million through arbitration in 2014. "For a team that has payroll issues," one rival official wrote in an email the other day, "this is too much money."

A lot of teams view closers in the way NFL teams view kickers -- mostly interchangeable, with few exceptions. When the 2014 season opens, there may be only two teams using the same closers they had at the outset of 2012: the Braves, with Craig Kimbrel, and the Phillies, with Jonathan Papelbon. Koji Uehara went into spring training in 2013 at No. 4 on the Boston bullpen depth chart and wound up throwing the final pitch of the World Series after a dominant second half -- which said a lot about Uehara and about how quickly a closer's performance can change.

But for the Orioles, the closer has been much more integral than for most teams, because of how their games have played out. Baltimore has not gotten a lot of production from its rotation, leaving many save chances on the table for the bullpen.

Note who had the most save opportunities in 2012:

1. Cincinnati, 74

2. Baltimore, 73 (tie)

2. Milwaukee, 73 (tie)

And 2013:

1. Baltimore, 84

2. Kansas City, 73

3. Pittsburgh, 70

The Orioles aren't in position to substantially upgrade their rotation this winter, although they can reasonably hope that Kevin Gausman will have a greater impact in 2014. So if they are to contend again next season, they'll need a dominant bullpen -- and if Johnson is not the closer, then who is?

There are sacrifices built into every hypothetical this winter. If Johnson, Wieters or Markakis isn't moved, how could the Orioles make upgrades elsewhere? If they aren't going to work out long-term deals with Wieters or Davis, when is the best time to try to trade them? And if they do work out deals, what other parts of the roster must be adjusted as a result? Everybody with the Orioles would love to retain Nate McLouth, for example, but where will there be enough money left over to make even that happen?

This will not be an easy winter to be part of the Orioles organization or an Orioles fan.

source - Buster Olney, Insider
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The accounting may not be complete on Olney's part, but unless the Orioles are going to change their spending habits, the issues he raises are valid. I think this is shaping up to be a very interesting winter. I think we are going to find out how much latitude our GM has and a good deal about his abilities as well.

I can live with a winter like the Rays, as we have long said we wished to be like them. But we either need some creative upgrades in order to make a serious run at improving, or we will need to creatively move some pieces in order to prolong and shift our window of opportunity.

If that means moving Matt and/or Nick, but we get serious pieces back, well that would be tough, but I think I could live with it.

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I think the Orioles are at a fork in the road and need to pick a path. The core of this team has a window to try to win it all. You either commit to going all-in with this core and adding the free agent talent necessary to win now, or you auction off Davis, Wieters, and Hardy and get more players for the next window.

Trying to walk the fine line between the two will only lead to disaster. Angelos also has to ask himself whether or not he ever wants to hold a WS Trophy or just cash.

If it were me, and I was a billionaire, I would go all in to try to win it all with this group. I would go to the mat to try to sign Cano, Morales, and a couple pitchers. You either want to win or you don't. Let's say signing these guys takes the payroll to $140m next year. I don't understand why the Orioles can't afford that. This past year we were at approximately $100m. There is an additional $25m coming from TV. If signing these guys added 500,000 to attendance at an average of $30 each walking through the door, that is another $15m. You could raise ticket prices a little bit and you would get more MASN $$$ too.

The entire purpose of the MASN deal w/MLB was to let us play with the big boys. How can the Nats have a $125m+ payroll when they own less than 20% of MASN. The media should not be giving Angelos a pass on this stuff.

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The accounting may not be complete on Olney's part, but unless the Orioles are going to change their spending habits, the issues he raises are valid. I think this is shaping up to be a very interesting winter. I think we are going to find out how much latitude our GM has and a good deal about his abilities as well.

I can live with a winter like the Rays, as we have long said we wished to be like them. But we either need some creative upgrades in order to make a serious run at improving, or we will need to creatively move some pieces in order to prolong and shift our window of opportunity.

If that means moving Matt and/or Nick, but we get serious pieces back, well that would be tough, but I think I could live with it.

Not really, as Tony and I just showed the O's have 45 million just sitting there not including any increases from MASN or Season Ticket sale increases. The O's can certainly afford to go year to year with Wieters and Davis to include qualifying offers when they leave team control. They also have Markakis' contract off the books next season.

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Not really, as Tony and I just showed the O's have 45 million just sitting there not including any increases from MASN or Season Ticket sale increases. The O's can certainly afford to go year to year with Wieters and Davis to include qualifying offers when they leave team control. They also have Markakis' contract off the books next season.

But surely Duquette understands the $45 million and the salaries coming off. Yet the word is out that the team feels handcuffed and needs salary relief to make major moves.

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From the article: "Baltimore's offseason will more closely resemble a typical Rays winter, with payroll management a central concern."

Ouch! That's depressing.

It is depressing, but I don't think a Rays-type of offseason would be a bad thing. I think DD is capable of making some shrewd moves.

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Hammel's $6.75M, gone. Wada's $4M, gone. $10M more in the bank.

That doesn't change the fact that simply offering arbitration to all eligible players (minus Pearce, Dickerson, Reimold and Dan Johnson) and filling the rest of the 25-man roster with players at the MLB minimum would put the Opening Day payroll at $92 million. If that is truly the limit, there is no more money in the bank.

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But surely Duquette understands the $45 million and the salaries coming off. Yet the word is out that the team feels handcuffed and needs salary relief to make major moves.
That doesn't change the fact that simply offering arbitration to all eligible players (minus Pearce, Dickerson, Reimold and Dan Johnson) and filling the rest of the 25-man roster with players at the MLB minimum would put the Opening Day payroll at $92 million. If that is truly the limit, there is no more money in the bank.

That's on ownership if they don't make the 25 million available to the team. Olney should be mentioning that fact in his article.

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That's on ownership if they don't make the 25 million available to the team. Olney should be mentioning that fact in his article.

The fact that the Orioles are on a budget of under $100 million is an assumed fact when reading the article. Olney's purpose in writing the article is not to suggest what the budget should be, merely that the Orioles will find it difficult to stay within the current budget if they wish to retain all their arbitration eligible players and make further additions.

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The fact that the Orioles are on a budget of under $100 million is an assumed fact when reading the article. Olney's purpose in writing the article is not to suggest what the budget should be, merely that the Orioles will find it difficult to stay within the current budget if they wish to retain all their arbitration eligible players and make further additions.

Yea, well when describing the situation I think he should mention that the O's supported a payroll in the 90's last season and have at least 25 additional million coming in so any budget constraints are the product of ownership.

He is a reporter, I think adding content of that sort is appropriate to the article.

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The fact that the Orioles are on a budget of under $100 million is an assumed fact when reading the article. Olney's purpose in writing the article is not to suggest what the budget should be, merely that the Orioles will find it difficult to stay within the current budget if they wish to retain all their arbitration eligible players and make further additions.

It's pretty obvious they are not raising payroll to sign free agents. (DD on signing Beltran would require trading away our highly paid players)

Most of whatever money we have will be used for the arbitration process.

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