In years past, Friday's annual deadline to exchange salary figures with arbitration-eligible players didn't have a lot of meaning. Most players agreed to terms on their one-year deals by the deadline, but the sides continued to work on cases that weren't resolved, and most times, they avoided arbitration hearings.
But with the Orioles set to invest their largest amount of payroll in arbitration-eligible players in club history, they have now employed the increasingly popular "file-and-trial" approach with those players, meaning that players whose cases were unsettled by Friday's deadline would go to an arbitration hearing with no further negotiations.
Ultimately, the Orioles still handed out hefty raises Friday, avoiding arbitration with many of their top eligible players, investing nearly $36.5 million in 2017 salaries for third baseman Manny Machado, closer Zach Britton, right-hander Chris Tillman and second baseman Jonathan Schoop for 2017. The Orioles spent more than $38 million on eight arbitration-eligible players last offseason.
But three of the team's nine arbitration-eligible players' cases were not resolved: right-hander Brad Brach, right-hander Kevin Gausman and catcher Caleb Joseph. The Orioles plan to take those three cases to trial, according to an industry source.
Machado agreed to terms on a one-year deal for next season worth $11.5 million, while Britton reached an agreement on an $11.4 million deal for 2017, Tillman agreed to a $10.05 million deal and Schoop agreed to a $3.475 million contract. While Britton agreed to terms well before Friday's 1 p.m. deadline, negotiations with Machado and Tillman went down to the wire, according to sources.
"We attempted to agree on fair and appropriate compensation agreements with each player on our roster, but were unable to agree with a couple," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "... The Orioles were pleased to agree on one-year deals with some of our best players and reward them for having good, solid years. Manny, Zach Britton, Chris Tillman and Jon Schoop are core players we will be looking to help our team again."
The Orioles knew this day would be an important one for the franchise. In some ways, it's the price of winning, and the Orioles have gone to the postseason in three of the past five seasons with this group of core players. Machado, Britton and Tillman represented three of this year's top 10 highest projected arbitration salaries in the game, according to MLBTradeRumors.com
The contracts of Machado and Britton fall just short of the club record for a deal with an arbitration-eligible player. First baseman Chris Davis made $12 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility in 2015. Machado and Britton are both under team control for the next two seasons, so they are on pace to break that mark in their final year before free agency in 2018.
Machado and Britton were arguably the team's best players last season. They finished first and second on the team in wins above replacement (Machado at 6.7 and Britton at 4.3). Machado placed fifth in American League MVP voting, while Britton was fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting. Both played in last year's All-Star Game, Machado's third trip and Britton's second.
Machado will more than double his salary from last season, when he made $5 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The 24-year-old Machado hit .294/.343/.533 in 157 games last season, setting career highs in homers (37), RBIs (96) and slugging percentage (.533).
Britton, who converted all 47 save opportunities last season and posted a 0.54 ERA, settled his case about an hour before Friday's 1 p.m. deadline.
Britton made $6.75 million last season. He is entering his third of four arbitration-eligible seasons.
Tillman's raise is also a significant one. He made $6.225 million last season. He settled for slightly less than the $10.5 million he was projected to make this season.
Tillman has been the Orioles' most consistent starter over the past four seasons, winning a team-high 16 games last season while posting a 3.77 ERA over 172 innings. He finished with a 4.1 WAR, which was fourth on the team.
This is set to be Tillman's final year under team control and he is positioned to be a free agent next offseason. The club has been in preliminary extension talks with Tillman, but nothing has materialized.
Schoop, 25, had a breakout year in 2016, batting .267/.298/.454 with 38 doubles, 25 homers and 82 RBIs while playing standout defense. He was one of only three major league players to appear in all 162 games last season.
In his first year of arbitration eligibility, Schoop's salary went up by nearly $3 million from $522,500 in 2016.
The Orioles agreed to terms with six of their nine arbitration-eligible players. Utility man Ryan Flaherty and left-hander T.J. McFarland agreed to terms Thursday.
Coming into this offseason, the Orioles have gone to an arbitration hearing just twice in the past five years. But they've had remarkable success going to trial. The team's general counsel, H. Russell Smouse, is 8-0 in arbitration hearings, and the Orioles have lost just one arbitration hearing since Peter G. Angelos took over the team. They are 11-1 under Angelos, their only loss in that span coming against Ben McDonald in 1995.