SARASOTA, Fla. – Even though the Orioles handed out a historic four-year deal to right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, the club believes it has gotten a deal given the money being handed out on the free-agent market.
As much as fans in Baltimore have railed that they’ll never see the Orioles open their wallets for a high-profile free agent, today is their day.
Jimenez's deal is worth roughly $50 million. He is the fifth free-agent starter to receive a deal of four years or more, but out of the five, his $12.5 million average annual salary is comparable to the others.
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Here are the others:
Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) – seven years, $155 million ($22.2 million annual average salary)
Matt Garza (Brewers) – four years, $50 million ($12.5 million annual average salary)
Ricky Nolasco (Twins) – four years, $49 million ($12.25 million annual average salary)
Jason Vargas (Royals) – four years, $32 million ($8 million annual average salary)
With the exception of Tanaka, Jimenez is the youngest, having just turned 30 in January. He also likely holds the greatest upside of the group, again with the exception of Tanaka.
Also consider the fact that 37-year-old A.J. Burnett received a one-year deal for $16 million and Bronson Arroyo, who will be 37 on Opening Day, signed a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $23.5 million that could be worth $30 million with a third-year option.
Jimenez is different than all the pitchers above in that he is tied to draft-pick compensation. By signing him, the Orioles forfeit their first-round pick, the 17th overall selection.
Meanwhile, the other top free-agent pitcher on the market – right-hander Ervin Santana – sits and waits for a deal because he would also require the loss of a draft pick.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette had to think long and hard about his willingness to give up a draft pick. He was much more open to it this offseason than last, but given his commitment to building the Orioles through player development, that pick is valuable.
But the Orioles aren't as married to that pick as they once were. One club source told me that the team's recent acquisitions of two international teenagers -- they purchased the contract of 17-year-old Carlos Diaz from the Mexican League and signed 16-year-old Dominican Jomar Reyes -- can help compensate for losing a draft pick.
And at the end of the day, it was apparent that draft-pick compensation free agent pitchers have had a tough time finding a landing spot. And among the teams where pitchers like Jimenez and Santana fit well, the Orioles were in a good bargaining situation.
Jimenez could have gone to the Blue Jays, who wouldn’t have had to give up a first-round pick because they hold a top 10 pick. Under the compensation rules, Toronto wouldn’t have had to forfeit a second-round pick instead, which isn’t nearly as costly.
He also could have gone to the Red Sox and the thought of that probably frightened the Orioles more than Jimenez heading to Canada.
Regardless, the Orioles seemed to be in a favorable bargaining position since they waited out.
They still might not be done. They payroll for 2014 is now at approximately $97 million, and Duquette said he can push it to the $100 million mark. If an addition can help make the Orioles a greater contender – Kendrys Morales immediately comes to mind as a nice fit into the team’s DH hole -- maybe he can push it beyond.
Give Duquette credit for this. While free-agent money was flying, he remained patient – and confident he could possibly get a bargain if he waited out.
And while $48 million won’t meet the bargain quota in most situations, Duquette has said many times this offseason that in this market $10 million can be spent in an instant.
As for $12 million a year? It took him a while to spend that, but he did it. And it looks like he got a front-line starter.
Will it work out? That remains to be seen. But at least for now, fans can’t complain that the Orioles didn’t spend.