There are two intriguing questions that have arisen this week in Birdland.
One’s been lingering for a while and will soon be answered: Which Orioles will receive qualifying offers?
The other could be a lot more revealing, but the answer isn’t imminent: Does a judge’s ruling Wednesday to throw out an arbiter’s decision involving the MASN rights dispute mean the club will have more money to spend on free agents?
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette wisely sidestepped that one -- referring all comment on the MASN dispute to the organization’s business and legal people.
Ultimately, if the Orioles aren’t forced to send $20 million or so extra annually to the Washington Nationals -- as a Major League Baseball arbitration panel initially ruled they would have to -- there should be more money for on-field improvements.
But, frankly, this MASN rights situation still isn’t quite over. Yes, the Orioles won a big battle when New York Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Marks essentially ruled that MASN and the Orioles didn’t receive a fair and impartial arbitration hearing. He suggested that the matter be resolved through a “neutral dispute resolution process.” In other words, another third party -- and a truly impartial one -- should make the call.
The Orioles haven’t wavered from their point of view: They had an agreement initially with Major League Baseball and the Nationals to set the rights fee and that shouldn’t be altered now.
Marks agreed with that contention. If he hadn’t, the Orioles likely would have been on the hook for millions. Right now, they aren’t.
But there’s no telling when this thing ends, and therefore there’s no concrete understanding as to what its lasting effect will be.
Duquette could be a little more forthcoming about the upcoming qualifying offers. We at least know now, according to Duquette, that the team doesn’t expect to announce its final decision on the club’s six free agents until Friday, the deadline to offer the one-year, $15.8 million deal. If a free agent rejects it, the Orioles would get a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2016 while the eventual signing team will forfeit either its first- or second-round pick (depending on 2015 final standings).
“We’ve got to tidy our slates and get ready to make a decision. I think we're zeroing in on what we want to do,” Duquette said. “We’ll do it Friday.”
There’s very little mystery here. Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen will be tendered qualifying offers and will reject them. Darren O’Day, Steve Pearce and Gerardo Parra won’t get the offers.
Catcher Matt Wieters is a bit of a wild card, but not really. It’d be surprising if the Orioles don’t make him a qualifying offer, partially because it would be a huge surprise if Wieters, a Scott Boras client, became the first player to ever accept one. In the previous three years in the current system, 34 players have received the offer and none have taken it.
Duquette also said Wednesday that there is nothing new to report concerning the re-signing any of those six during the exclusive negotiating period that ends Friday. So you can expect that the group can begin negotiating with other teams after midnight Friday night.
That’s not really a surprise, or a major problem. It’s what usually happens this time of year with most players and clubs; once it has come this far, players understandably like to test the market.
Duquette isn’t one to show his hand with free agency. He’s not discussing which players he’s targeting, including any Korean or Japanese players potentially available through the bidding process.
“All these players on the market, I’m not going to comment on them individually,” he said. “But you know what we are looking for: pitching, help in the outfield and we’re looking for some catching depth.”
The Orioles won’t need catching depth if they hang onto Wieters. But, Duquette said, right now Wieters is “a free agent in the talent pool.”