Braves begin free agency with a flurry and are a reminder of what the Orioles hope to become

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

A flurry of signings by the Atlanta Braves in the form of catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Josh Donaldson signaled the beginning of free agency's major moves this year, but show why the Orioles might not be major players in it.

For a team coming off a 115-loss season that saw them significantly cut payroll at the end of the season, even at the expense of building for the future with better minor league pieces, significant free agency outlays are going to be beyond the Orioles' grasp this winter.

They might try and find inexpensive help up the middle in the infield, and could add veteran pitching on the cheap too, but the goal is to ultimately get to a position to spend like the Braves are in now.

As teams rebuild, a by-product is the low payroll that comes with young players trying to establish themselves as major leaguers. The Orioles won't be able to get down to the $24 million payroll the Astros had in 2013, at least not with the likes of Chris Davis and Alex Cobb drawing more than that themselves on long-term contracts. But the Braves' young team makes it so their roster is in a position to spend big to supplement the strong young core they have in place.

Low salaries for the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson mean one year at $23 million for Donaldson and $2 million for McCann are the types of big-ticket moves they can make to try and push a team that won a division title ahead of schedule past that. It's not unlike the Astros' 2016 signing of veteran slugger Carlos Beltran, and similar to how the Philadelphia Phillies are the biggest names out there for stars like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

In the modern game, for all but the wealthiest teams, the impetus to spend big comes when there's something worth adding to already built teams, not the other way around.

The Orioles were never really part of the early free agency circus anyway, with many of their recent signings — including Davis, Cobb, Mark Trumbo and Andrew Cashner coming in January or later, with non-tendered catcher Welington Castillo their most significant December free agent in recent years.

But with a new course of action under general manager Mike Elias, it seems the Orioles are going to be mostly spectators in the free agent extravaganza set to build through the next few weeks and months. Instead they will try to build themselves to a point where it makes sense to take part in years to come.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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