Based on the way salaries are structured in Major League Baseball, with players getting large raises after accruing three years of big-league service time, the Orioles knew they'd be doling out millions of dollars for arbitration-eligible players this winter.
That concept became reality Friday when the club agreed to one-year deals with four players and exchanged arbitration figures with six others.
The Orioles approved $7 million in raises for four players Friday and will be on the hook for between $8 and $19 million more in salary increases with their remaining six arbitration-eligible players, with whom they'll resolve contracts at some point in the next month.
Factoring in projected increases for already-signed players, the Orioles' payroll will be roughly $114 million in 2015, assuming the club doesn't sign anyone else and the arbitration-eligible players settle for around the midpoint of the numbers that have been exchanged.
The Orioles' payroll was approximately $107 million in 2014, the highest in franchise history and estimated at 15th of 30 teams in the majors. This year, even without additional signings, the Orioles' payroll will likely be slightly closer to the Top 10.
On Friday, the Orioles agreed to deals with first baseman Chris Davis for $12 million (up from $10.35 million in 2014), catcher Matt Wieters for $8.3 million (up from $7.7 million), right-handed starter Chris Tillman for $4.315 million (up from $546,000) and lefty reliever Brian Matusz for $3.2 million (up from $2.4 million).
They also exchanged figures with six others: right-hander Bud Norris (who filed at $10.25 million while the Orioles filed at $7.5 million), infielder-outfielder Steve Pearce ($5.4 million/$2 million), outfielder Alejandro De Aza ($5.65 million/$5 million), closer Zach Britton ($4.2 million/$2.2 million) right-hander Miguel Gonzalez ($3.95 million/$2.5 million) and infielder Ryan Flaherty ($1.5 million/$900,000).
If the sides don't come to an agreement before hearings in February — dates have not been scheduled — a three-person arbitration panel will listen to both sides and choose one of the two submitted salaries. The Orioles have been excellent over the years in winning arbitration hearings; the club has lost just once since Peter Angelos bought the team in 1993 and the club is 7-0 when its case is led by general counsel H. Russell Smouse.
The Orioles entered this week with 11 players eligible for arbitration, but they settled Monday with reliever Tommy Hunter, whose salary increased to $4.65 million from $3 million in 2014.
Because teams can unilaterally renew contracts, for the most part, before players accrue three years of service, players are basically assured some type of raise each season once they reach arbitration (after three years of service in most cases; after two-plus in some cases).
That's why Davis, who batted .196 with 26 home runs in 127 games and was suspended at the end of the 2014 season for a failed amphetamines test, received a $1.65 million raise above what he earned following his splendid 2013 campaign, for which he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player race.
Davis, 28, is in his final year of arbitration and can become a free agent after this season. He stands to make an additional $150,000 if he reaches 500 plate appearances in 2015 and $150,000 more if he gets to 575 plate appearances. He can earn an additional $50,000 in bonuses for making the All Star team, winning a Gold Glove or winning a Silver Slugger.
Wieters, 28, received a $600,000 raise after a season in which he batted a career-best .308 but played in just 26 games due to a right elbow injury that required surgery. He could also be a free agent at the end of this year. Wieters would make an additional $200,000 for winning another Gold Glove. He'll receive a $100,000 bonus if he is elected to the All-Star Game, $75,000 if he is selected as a reserve and $75,000 if he wins a Silver Slugger.
Tillman, 26, received the largest raise — more than $3.7 million — in his first year of arbitration eligibility. It's the third-largest one-year settlement for a first-year, arbitration eligible starting pitcher in the history of the process, behind David Price and Dontrelle Willis. Tillman also can receive $50,000 bonuses for being an All Star or winning the Cy Young Award.
Tillman, the Orioles' 2014 Opening Day starter, excelled again last year after making the All-Star team in 2013. He was 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts and eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the second consecutive season.
Matusz, 27, was 2-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 63 games with the Orioles in 2014, all in relief, earning him an $800,000 raise. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility before potentially becoming a free agent after the 2016 season. Matusz can make $50,000 in bonuses in 2015 if he makes the All-Star team or wins a Gold Glove or MVP awards in the League Championship Series or World Series.
Norris, 29, is seeking the biggest raise among the club's arbitration-eligible players. He made $5.3 million in 2014 when he was 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts. At $10.25 million, he would become the club's fifth-highest paid player behind Adam Jones, Ubaldo Jimenez, Davis and J.J. Hardy.
Pearce, 30, is looking to cash in on a season in which he batted .293 with 21 homers and 49 RBIs while playing in a career-high 102 games. He made $850,000 in 2014.
De Aza, 30, hit .293 in 20 games for the Orioles after being acquired Aug. 30 in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. He made $4.25 million in 2014. De Aza, Pearce and Norris can all become free agents after the 2015 season.
Britton, 27, is looking to jump from $522,000 to $4.2 million after seizing the Orioles' closer job in May and saving 37 games in his first season as a reliever.
Gonzalez, 30, made $529,000 in 2014, when he posted a 7-7 record and a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.
Flaherty, 28, hit .221 in 102 games for the Orioles in 2014, making $513,000. This is the first year of arbitration eligibility for Britton, Gonzalez and Flaherty.