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Orioles avoid arbitration with Trey Mancini, unable to reach agreement with Anthony Santander before salary-exchange deadline

Although 2019′s Most Valuable Oriole avoided arbitration Friday, the team’s most recent honoree seems set to take the Orioles to a hearing for the first time in four years.

Trey Mancini reached an agreement with the club on a 2021 contract before Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline to exchange salary figures, but Anthony Santander did not, positioning him to be the first Oriole since reliever Brad Brach in 2017 to reach the hearing stage of the arbitration process.

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An arbitration panel will decide between the Orioles and Santander’s salary figures in a February hearing to determine the 26-year-old outfielder’s 2021 salary. Although the two sides are allowed to continue to negotiate up to the hearing, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias reiterated Friday that the organization follows a “file-to-go” approach, meaning once the figures are exchanged with any players, Baltimore will go to a hearing.

“With us not having been able to reach an agreement today with him, which is OK — it’s part of the process; this happens — we will be proceeding to arbitration,” Elias said on a Zoom call.

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After designating Renato Núñez for assignment and non-tendering Hanser Alberto, the Orioles agreed to contracts with their other arbitration-eligible players at December’s tender deadline. Infielders Yolmer Sánchez and Pat Valaika, catcher Pedro Severino, and reliever Shawn Armstrong all avoided arbitration by agreeing to contracts. Mancini and Santander were tendered contracts, meaning they remained with the organization, but their 2021 salaries were not yet determined.

Mancini, 28, missed all of the 2020 season, abbreviated to 60 games because of the coronavirus pandemic, after being diagnosed with colon cancer in March. The lost season made him a unique case in the arbitration process, having not played in over a year but posting an .899 OPS with 35 home runs and 38 doubles when he was last healthy.

Before proration for the shortened season, Mancini was due to make $4.75 million in 2020, his first season with enough service time to be arbitration-eligible, and will receive that salary again in 2021, an industry source confirmed. Mancini has been declared cancer-free and expects to be a full participant when spring training begins next month.

In Mancini’s absence, Santander arose as the Orioles’ top batter. The former Rule 5 draftee was productive in his first stretch of consistent playing time in 2019, hitting 20 home runs in under 100 games, but elevated his play in 2020. Before a right oblique strain prematurely ended his season, Santander was among the American League leaders in extra-base hits, RBIs, slugging percentage and home runs. Still, his 37 games played accounted for less than a fourth of a traditional season, but he was on the field long enough to be one of three finalists for the AL’s Gold Glove award for right fielders.

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Santander is eligible for arbitration for the first time as a Super Two, a player with fewer than the three years of service time typically required to be eligible but who ranks among those with the highest service time between two and three years. The distinction means he can be eligible for arbitration up to four times before reaching free agency.

Elias said throughout the league, the shortened season played a role in this winter’s arbitration processes. Traditional counting stats, such as home runs or strikeouts, that play a large role in determining a player’s salary in arbitration were not as high as they would have been after a full season and were left open to differing interpretations from teams and players.

“It’s definitely an unknown element,” Elias said. “It has, it seems like, across the industry, from what we’re hearing and seeing, created some extra space for people to maybe not be speaking the exact same language just because of how strange the shortened season was. I think that was to be expected, and it’s definitely a factor.”

Santander’s hearing would be the Orioles’ fifth since 2011 and 14th since 1993, when Peter Angelos became the organization’s majority owner. The Orioles won 11 of the prior 13 hearings.

MASNSports.com first reported Mancini’s 2021 salary.

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