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Breaking down the Orioles' potential payroll for 2018: How much is left for upgrades?

Now that the Orioles’ seven arbitration-eligible players have been signed, the club’s projected Opening Day payroll — and how much the team has left to spend if its payroll remains the same as last year’s — is becoming clearer.

With right-hander Kevin Gausman agreeing to a $5.6 million deal Tuesday, the Orioles have committed a total of $51.865 million in base salary on their seven arbitration-eligible players.

Combine that with the $59.951 million dedicated to the Orioles’ four-players signed to multiyear deals — Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day — and the payroll jumps to $111.816 million.

Now, take 14 pre-arbitration players who would currently fill out the 25-man roster, and project them to make an average of $675,000 – which is a liberal estimate given by Cot’s Baseball Contracts – and that adds $9.45 million to push the projected 25-man payroll to $121.266 million.

The Orioles’ Opening Day payroll last year was a club-record $164.326 million, so if the Orioles can spend as much as they did in 2017, that would leave approximately $43.06 million left for upgrades.

The Orioles’ Opening Day payroll has gone up in each of the past five seasons, and has nearly doubled over that span, going from $84.102 million at the beginning of the 2012 season to last year’s total.

The steady increase in payroll can be accounted for by key players receiving significant arbitration raises over the years, but also unprecedented multiyear financial commitments. Fans can’t complain that the Orioles haven’t spent to keep some of their core players, such as Jones, Davis, Trumbo, O’Day and J.J. Hardy.

While executive vice president Dan Duquette has expressed confidence he would be given proper financial means to remain competitive, and while he’s given every indication the Orioles would be able to push their payroll near last year’s mark, there’s been no guarantee it will continue to rise.

And if recent struggles to sign low-cost players the team has been interested in — such as utility men Ryan Goins and Ryan Flaherty — are any indication, the Orioles might not plan to spend as much as they did last year.

That would be a change in the team’s recent surge in spending, but if you take the four players the Orioles have committed multiyear deals to — Davis, Jones, Trumbo and O’Day — they combined for just 1.5 wins above replacement last year, according to the FanGraphs formula (with Jones leading with a 1.7 WAR), for a combined financial commitment of nearly $56 million for that quartet. That disappointing return was mostly a result of down seasons from Trumbo (minus-1.2 WAR) and Davis (0.2 WAR).

Still, the Orioles were released from several big contracts this past offseason, including $14 million paid to J.J. Hardy last season, $13.5 million to Ubaldo Jiménez, $10.05 million to Chris Tillman and $8.75 million to Wade Miley. Those four players earned a combined $46.3 million and produced a minus-0.7 WAR.

So while the Orioles received disappointing returns last year from their multiyear investments, they also were relieved of some disappointing contracts this past offseason.

Whether the Orioles actually spend that nearly $43 million to upgrade their starting rotation and acquire a left-handed hitter remains to be seen. But if they are committed to the same payroll as last season, the money should be enough to sign two starters and a complementary lefty hitter, at least for this year.

More difficult would be finding the length of a deal that is to the club’s liking, especially a pitcher, because the Orioles are unlikely to offer a free-agent starter more than two years guaranteed.

Jiménez’s four-year, $50 million deal — an average annual value of $12.5 million a year — is the most the team has committed in terms of length and value, and the Orioles aren’t expected to make another deal of that magnitude.

eencina@baltsun.com

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