Tonight at 11:59 p.m. is the deadline for the Orioles to tender contracts to their 14 players that are arbitration eligible.
What that means in simpler, non-baseball language is that the Orioles have 14 players who are under team control, but have compiled at least three years of service in the majors and, therefore, have the right to have their 2013 contracts determined by an independent arbitrator.
In most cases, these types of players receive significant bonuses in arbitration from their previous years. So the Orioles will have to decide whether that is acceptable in each case. If they tender the player a contract, they can still negotiate a new deal before an arbiter’s hearing in February or March.
But if they don’t tender contracts by tonight, then those players can become unrestricted free agents and negotiate with anyone (including the Orioles).
There are 10 players that the Orioles certainly will tender a contract: Matt Wieters, Jim Johnson, Chris Davis, Jason Hammel, Darren O’Day, Troy Patton, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Nolan Reimold and Alexi Casilla.
There are four that could be non-tendered: Steve Pearce, Omar Quintanilla, Taylor Teagarden and Mark Reynolds.
Reynolds, of course, is the big one. He was the club’s starting first baseman last season and excelled defensively once he made the switch from third base. He is, by all accounts, a perfect fit within the clubhouse and, when he’s on, can really lift an offense with his power bat.
But Reynolds is exceptionally streaky, strikes out a lot and can kill an offense when he is in one of his dreadful slumps. Since he’ll likely make roughly $9 million in arbitration, the expectation is the Orioles will non-tender him, but still attempt to sign him back at a lesser price.
As of Thursday, there hadn’t been any movement toward that goal. The sense is that if an offer comes, it would be closer to tonight’s midnight deadline.
Reynolds would like to come back, and the Orioles would like to have him. But each has a figure in mind, and the most likely scenario is that Reynolds hits free agency, tests his worth and then makes a decision.
Teams like the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, for instance, could use a first baseman. So it will be interesting to see what happens with Reynolds when he’s available to talk to other clubs.
One side note to all of this: A trade yesterday that didn’t involve the Orioles or a first baseman could play in to where Reynolds lands.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Twins dealt center fielder Denard Span to the Washington Nationals for top pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Span’s presence in the outfield likely pushes Mike Morse to either first base or the trade block.
Much of that depends on whether the Nationals can re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit 33 homers and drove in 100 runs last year. Initially, it seemed like LaRoche and the Nats would agree to a deal quickly once a $10 million option was declined by LaRoche in November.
But nothing has occurred, and Washington’s pressing need for a first baseman lessens with the Span trade.
If LaRoche leaves via free agency, it could fill a spot that might have been open for Reynolds – in Boston, for instance.
Also, the Orioles certainly wouldn’t dismiss going after LaRoche, a Gold Glover, for the right price. Remember, LaRoche was the Orioles’ top first base target in the winter of 2010, before he signed with Washington.
And, remember, Reynolds and LaRoche are friends and former teammates, and Reynolds texted LaRoche back in 2010 trying to get him to consider Baltimore (back when Reynolds was a third baseman).
I can’t imagine the Orioles would be more willing to give LaRoche, now 33, a three-year deal in 2012 – which is what he reportedly wants in Washington – than they were in 2010, when they wouldn’t guarantee a third year and negotiations stalled.
Ultimately, LaRoche’s – or Morse’s – availability doesn’t affect the Orioles’ decision on Reynolds. They will either get him for the price they want, or they won’t. And Reynolds’ price will be less than what LaRoche commands.