Most dates of significance on Major League Baseball’s offseason calendar come in the month or so after the World Series. But the upcoming week brings a pair of deadlines that will influence the Orioles’ present and future.
Friday is the arbitration salary exchange deadline, when teams and their arbitration-eligible players — typically those with more than three but fewer than six years of major league service time — each suggest a potential 2023 salary if they don’t come to an agreement beforehand. Sunday then marks the start of the next international signing period, and the Orioles have become increasingly involved in that market under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez. Both events figure to lock in aspects of the Orioles’ 2023 budget while also potentially having long-term effects.
All six of Baltimore’s arbitration-eligible players were tendered contracts in November, meaning they remained under team control, but the club has yet to agree to terms with any of them. Nearly a third of the Orioles’ projected major league payroll derives from the expected salaries for outfielders Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays; infielder Jorge Mateo; and right-handed pitchers Austin Voth and Dillon Tate. Projections from MLB Trade Rumors, Spotrac and Cot’s Baseball Contracts each have the group earning about $20 million in 2023.
The largest chuck of that will likely go to Santander, who is projected to receive more than $7 million in his third of four years of eligibility after leading the Orioles and all switch-hitters in home runs (33) in 2022. Mullins, a 2021 All-Star, and Hays are predicted to earn as much as Santander combined; they, as well as Mateo and Tate, are in arbitration for the first time.
Elias has said the Orioles operate under the common “file-and-go” approach, where if the sides don’t have a deal in place by the exchange deadline, all negotiations cease, and the team and player will go to an arbitration hearing, typically during spring training, where a panel will select either the team’s or the player’s suggested salary. In Elias’ previous four offseasons, the Orioles have had only one arbitration hearing, with arbitrators siding with the club to determine Santander’s 2021 salary. Last year’s deadline passed without first baseman/outfielder Trey Mancini and left-handed pitcher John Means coming to terms with Baltimore, but they reached agreements before hearings, with both deals likely somewhat impacted by the MLB lockout pushing back the arbitration process.
The negotiations for 2023 salaries could prompt longer deals, as was the case with the Boston Red Sox signing third baseman Rafael Devers for the next decade days after agreeing on terms for next season. The only guaranteed multi-year deal Elias has given out as Baltimore’s GM was last season’s two-year pact with Means, but that was a byproduct of Means requiring Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery amid the arbitration process. Regardless, the deadline could prompt movement that carries into coming years.
The international signings that take place Sunday will also influence the organization’s future. Baltimore won’t top last year’s franchise-record $6.3 million expenditure, as the organization’s pool in this period is only about $5.8 million. But for the third straight year, the Orioles will reportedly hand out the largest bonus to a Latin American teenager in team history.
Luis Almeyda, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, is expected to sign with the Orioles for more than $2 million, according to Baseball America, surpassing the $1.7 million bonus Baltimore gave to outfielder Braylin Tavera last year. Originally from New Jersey, Almeyda is considered average to above-average in all five tools and could handle a move to third base if he adds to his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. Baseball America expects him to receive the 16th largest bonus in the class, with MLB Pipeline regarding him as this year’s No. 20 international prospect.
These deals are typically agreed upon years in advance, so the Orioles have had to play catch-up under Elias and Perez. Almeyda would be the fourth Latin American amateur to receive a seven-figure bonus from the Orioles, all in the past three years. Catcher Samuel Basallo ($1.3 million) and infielder Maikol Hernández ($1.2 million) signed with Baltimore in January 2021.
Given his age, it will be several years before Almeyda reaches the majors, with many of the products of Elias and Perez’s first international signing class from July 2019 spending most of last year with Low-A Delmarva. But his signing would represent continued progress for a still-growing avenue of the “elite talent pipeline” Elias promised when he was hired.
Between the latest arbitration deadline and the start of the international signing period, it will be an important week for the Orioles. Once it’s over, the only date left to look forward to on the offseason’s calendar is the one that will bring it to an end: next month’s start of spring training.