Looking at Orioles' arbitration-eligible decisions, rumors about Matt Kemp and Torii Hunter

The Orioles could decide to nontender left-hander Brian Matusz, who is eligible for arbitration. But is that a likely scenario?
The Orioles could decide to nontender left-hander Brian Matusz, who is eligible for arbitration. But is that a likely scenario? (Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

This is traditionally a big week for baseball's hot stove action, though a lot of it ends up as preparation for next week's annual winter meetings, which officially begin Dec. 8 in San Diego.

One of the more important lead-ins to free agency will be Tuesday's deadline to tender a contract to players who are eligible for arbitration.


The Orioles have 11 players who are arbitration-eligible for 2015, and the sense is that the club will offer contracts to all. Eight are no-brainers: Zach Britton, Ryan Flaherty, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter, Bud Norris, Steve Pearce, Chris Tillman and Matt Wieters.

Chris Davis is close to a no-brainer. Yes, he'll get a raise beyond his $10.35 million salary from 2014 despite batting .196 and being suspended for a failed amphetamine test. Ridiculous as that may seem, it's the system and Davis played under value for several years.

The Orioles have two alternatives: Nontender Davis, allowing him to become a free agent, or offer him arbitration. My sense is they do the latter; it would mean they'll pay him roughly $11 million or more and hope for a rebound.

Given the current lineup uncertainty, the Orioles can't afford to cut ties with Davis. And his trade value is much lower now than it would be in July if he has, indeed, rebounded in 2015. He is a free agent at the end of the 2015 season.

There are two other potential nontender candidates in outfielder Alejandro De Aza and left-handed reliever Brian Matusz.

De Aza's fate is also somewhat tied to the roster uncertainty involving outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz. Both are free agents and it's possible the Orioles could have two holes in their outfield. So De Aza, who batted .293 with three homers in 20 games after being traded by the Chicago White Sox in August, will be tendered.

There's little choice, even though De Aza is looking at a solid bump from his $4.25 million salary in 2014. Right now, De Aza, 30, projects as the Orioles' leadoff hitter if Markakis doesn't return.

That leaves Matusz as the lone, true nontender decision. And the sense I get is that he is that he will be tendered a contract as well. The Orioles have been stockpiling cheaper left-handed relievers, so that could be a sign pointing otherwise.

But Matusz, 27, has value -- he was 2-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 63 games with the Orioles last year.

And although the $3 million to $4 million he'll get through arbitration in 2015 seems exorbitant for a middle reliever (he made $2.4 million last year), I'm sure there are teams out there who still see Matusz as a starter.

So the Orioles could do what they did with Jeremy Guthrie a few years back -- offer him arbitration, buy some time and then deal him before a hearing in February. Or they could just offer Matusz arbitration, agree to a contract and keep the left-hander in the bullpen for 2015.

Not tendering Matusz a contract would be the biggest surprise of the three options.

So expect the Orioles to tender contracts to all 11 players.

Over the weekend, there were some more rumors surrounding the Orioles, which is typical this time of year.


Free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter told a reporter Saturday that the Orioles are among the clubs in the mix for his services. On Sunday, a FoxSports.com report said the Orioles have talked with the Los Angeles Dodgers about outfielder Matt Kemp.

Kemp, 30, is signed through 2019, with $107 million left on his contract. When he signed his extension in 2011, it was the largest ever for a National League player. Certain Orioles officials have never been high on Kemp, so it seems farfetched that the club would pull the trigger now, even if he did have a bit of a rebound year in 2014.

But I would never dismiss the fact that the Orioles may have kicked the tires on Kemp or are in the mix for Hunter, who is 39.

The common theme here is that the Orioles are touching base about outfielders -- it's the smart thing to do because of the precarious situations involving Markakis and Cruz.

From what we have gleaned, there has been no recent movement with either player and the Orioles. And now there is just one week remaining before the winter meetings, when things will really heat up.



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