Qualifying offer process shows Orioles have financial flexibility for big addition this offseason

Now that Mark Trumbo has declined the chance to return to the Orioles on the $17.2 million qualifying offer, the team's offseason business begins in earnest with a pair of major holes to fill — right field and catcher.

Knowing Trumbo isn't returning might add another piece of offseason business to the Orioles' list, but it also tells a little something about the team's salary situation going forward.


Simply put, there was no way the Orioles would have offered the qualifying offer to begin with if they weren't prepared to pay Trumbo that price. And that means there's room in the team's offseason budget for a major addition, be it Trumbo on a long-term deal or someone else.

When the season wrapped up, the team's brass indicated that most of the money that would be freed up by the expiring contracts of players like Trumbo, catcher Matt Wieters, designated hitter Pedro Alvarez and others would end up going toward raises for arbitration-eligible stars like Zach Britton, Chris Tillman and Manny Machado.

The Orioles had a payroll of $148 million on Opening Day in 2016, and have eight players whose salaries are firmed up for 2017 totaling $98 million. According to MLB Trade Rumors, which has developed a pretty reliable system for determining arbitration awards, the Orioles are projected to commit $50.1 million to their 10 arbitration-eligible players.

With the rest of the roster presumably pre-arbitration players making around $500,000 apiece, that puts the Orioles' Opening Day payroll above last year's without any major additions.

There was a time when this organization wouldn't be expected to go through with something like that. It's unclear how much extra money there is in the budget to add for the major holes listed above, but Trumbo accepting the qualifying offer would have meant the Orioles had over $160 million committed or projected to be paid to their rostered players, putting that figure for Opening Day at least inside the realm of possibility.

As far as catcher goes, the team's stated faith in top prospect Chance Sisco back there makes it seem like any addition to the existing group of major league catchers -- Caleb Joseph and Francisco Pena -- could be a short-term supplemental signing as opposed to a marquee name.

That leaves most of the big money on the table for right field, or at least last year's right fielder. With Alvarez out of the fold, Trumbo could return and play more designated hitter, though the Orioles could then add a role player to platoon with Joey Rickard in right field if need be.

It's all ahead of us this offseason, and with so few true front-line corner outfield candidates out there, we'll know quickly which way the Orioles go. If they strike early for someone like Dexter Fowler, Yoenis Cespedes or Ian Desmond, there might even be more money available than speculated here. There seems to be money earmarked for at least one major addition, though. Through risking Trumbo accepting the qualifying offer, they showed that.

It can't be taken as anything but a good sign.