The Orioles signed all but one of their remaining arbitration-eligible players Friday while making slugger Chris Davis the third-highest paid member of the team by more than tripling his 2013 salary.
The lone arbitration question now centers on catcher Matt Wieters, who has asked for an $8.75 million salary in 2014 while the Orioles filed at $6.5 million.
The 27-year-old Wieters, who is represented by prominent agent Scott Boras, made $5.5 million in 2013 when he hit .235 with a .287 on-base percentage, 22 homers and 79 RBIs in 148 games. He was a finalist for a Gold Glove, but did not win.
The Orioles can negotiate with Wieters until a yet-to-be scheduled February hearing. If it gets that far, a three-person panel will choose either Wieters’ filing amount or the Orioles’ number. Oftentimes, the middle ground is met; the club has had just two arbitration hearings since 2006.
The Orioles avoided that process with their other arbitration-eligible players in a 24-hour period before Friday’s exchange deadline: pitchers Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and Bud Norris all agreed to one-year contracts.
But the big move was agreeing to a $10.35 million deal with Davis, who was named the 2013 Most Valuable Oriole and finished third in American League MVP voting.
“It’s obviously more money than I’ve ever made, more money than anyone in my family has ever made,” said the first baseman, whose 2013 salary was $3.3 million. “But I think you have to look at the body of work, what went into it, not only on my part but also on the club’s part. The fact that the club was willing to put that figure out there and let me know that, one, they really appreciated the hard work that went into last year. And, two, that they are willing to pay guys what they deserve.”
Davis, who led the majors with 53 homers and 138 RBIs while batting .286 with a .370 on-base percentage, admitted he wasn’t sure what the negotiating process would be like after the club dealt away closer Jim Johnson in December due to Johnson’s pending $10 million price tag.
“Jim was not only a great pitcher, but a great guy in the clubhouse and [the trade] was a big blow to us,” Davis said.. “So, we were just waiting to see what the club was thinking in terms of the future. But I’m ecstatic. I’m ecstatic not only about [the contract], but of being in Baltimore another year.”
Davis, who is also represented by Boras, can’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season, meaning he has one more year of arbitration. If he has another terrific season, he potentially could shatter the record award of $10 million issued by an arbitration panel. But Davis has made it known that he’d like to sign a long-term deal with his current team.
“As far as I am concerned, I’d love to be here,” Davis said. “I’d love to wear a Baltimore Orioles uniform for the rest of my career. But I don’t know if there were any talks about multi-year deals [this winter]. It was brought up last year at one point, but nothing has come to a head on that yet.”
Davis said he tries to stay out of the club’s personnel decisions, but did watch with interest when Johnson, his friend and a former All Star closer, was dealt to the Oakland A’s for infielder Jemile Weeks and a minor leaguer. Davis said he was hoping the money the club saved on Johnson would go toward a veteran starting pitcher, but that has not happened yet.
“It was a little frustrating to see him go and not really get as much as we probably could have in return. But I am excited about Weeks. I think he could be a very exciting player,” Davis said. “Starting pitching, obviously, is going to be the issue again for us. We have some young guys who can still improve this year, but we still lack that really experienced starter, a guy that has gone through the fire and really knows what to expect because he’s been around for a while.”
The Orioles’ bullpen received a boost Friday when the club agreed to new salaries with three returning members. The 27-year-old Hunter, who is the leading candidate to replace Johnson as closer, will make $3 million in 2014, a raise from $1.82 million last year when he was 6-5 with a 2.81 ERA in 68 games.
The 26-year-old Matusz, the team’s top lefty specialist, will make $2.4 million in 2014 after receiving $1.6 million while posting a 3.53 ERA in 65 games in 2013.
Patton, 28, agreed to a $1.275 million deal for 2014 after making $825,000 and posting a 3.70 ERA in 2013. He, however, will miss the club’s first 25 games while serving a suspension for testing positive for amphetamines last September.
On Thursday, the Orioles agreed to a one-year, $5.3 million deal with Norris, a right-handed starter who made $3 million last year while with the Orioles and Houston Astros.
Avoiding arbitration with its players is nothing new for the Orioles. They haven’t gone to a hearing since defeating starter Brad Bergesen in 2012. Their last hearing before that was in 2006, when they were victorious against Boras and starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez.
The club is 7-0 at arbitration hearings when led by current general counsel H. Russell Smouse and 9-1 since the team has been owned by attorney Peter Angelos. The loss came against starting pitcher Ben McDonald in 1995, with Boras representing McDonald.
Boras has the reputation of steering his clients toward free agency once eligible, so the salaries of Davis and Wieters — both of whom are under club control until after the 2015 season — are particularly noteworthy because they could establish starting points for the duo in an open market.
Davis, however, said he is more focused on the present and the “enormous blessing from God” he has received.
“I feel like we are going to be able to impact a lot of people who may have not gotten opportunities otherwise,” he said. “Obviously, we can have a little better lifestyle. But at the end of the day, it is just money, and it is not going to change who we are and where we came from. And I think that’s going to be important to remember.”
Davis, whose wife, Jill, is expecting the couple’s first child, a daughter, in late May, joked that he knew where a bulk of his new contract would be spent.
“We’ll probably stock up on a life’s supply of Pampers and baby toys,” he said.