With Chris Davis’ retirement last week, many were quick to point out that the Orioles are now without a player under contract for 2022 — a generally correct sentiment that belies the fact that only Matt Harvey and Maikel Franco will be free agents next year and everyone else can come back if the club wants them.
What Davis’ absence does ensure, however, is that their payroll will be lower than anticipated next year. With so many variables — how large their arbitration raises will be, what will come of bargaining between Major League Baseball and the players this winter, and the Orioles’ offseason plans — whatever that payroll ends up being will certainly become a flashpoint for many around the game.
The reported agreement to spread out Davis’ 2022 salary over multiple seasons won’t change the fact that his full $23 million salary, $6 million of which was already deferred, will go on the Orioles’ ledger for luxury tax purposes next season. So even if they’re paying out a smaller amount in present-day money to Davis, as long as the current financial structure stays in the game, then they’ll have a nice cushion to perhaps avoid the Major League Baseball Players Association’s ire on that grounds.
Trey Mancini, who is making $4.75 million this year, will be in his third year of salary arbitration, with Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino in their second seasons of arbitration after making $2.1 million and $1.825 million this year, respectively. The first-year arbitration class is led by John Means, with Jorge López, Paul Fry and Tanner Scott all due raises as well.
Perhaps that group of seven players, provided they’re back, ends up making $15 million to $20 million together. Everyone else on the club would be on minimum salary, which began at $570,500 in 2021. Conservatively, that could add $11 million in salary for the rest of the roster.
That would put the Orioles’ Opening Day payroll without any additions in a general ballpark of $26 million to $31 million, roughly speaking. Adding Davis’ $23 million to that for luxury tax calculation purposes, however, still puts the Orioles well below the payroll range that the Oakland Athletics, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays were in ahead of the 2018 season when the players union filed a grievance against them for not properly spending their revenue-sharing money.
The anticipated bargaining with the latest agreement between the league and the players expiring in December will be contentious, and for years the players have made clear that it will be a priority to ensure that teams like the Orioles spend on major league payroll and actively try to compete.
There could be mechanisms that force the Orioles to spend more in free agency than they have lately, and even if the team might not be completely ready to contend next season, the fact that Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Jahmai Jones and countless others who they believe are part of their future will be up at some point next season means they’ll need a better major league foundation around them than the one in place now.
For the first few years of this rebuild under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, they’ve slashed payroll but invested in all kinds of infrastructure that had been neglected over the years to help toward their purpose of building a sustainable contender going forward: analytics, international scouting and player procurement, player development, and a new academy in the Dominican Republic.
Most of those facets should be built up well by now. They’ll have more money to use elsewhere than they thought they would have a week ago with Davis accepting a structured payment in lieu of his $17 million salary for 2022.
The Orioles should get full marks for investing in building back up all those deficient areas over the past few years. Whether that’s ready to elevate enough young talent to help the team win in 2022 or not, the Orioles should take this opportunity to break from their plan a little bit and get their payroll to a respectable number so they and their fans don’t have to spend the entire summer batting away criticism over it.
It doesn’t have to be just free agents, either. Perhaps they can take on salary in a trade where another team throws in a prospect or two in order to accomplish something else in the offseason.
At the very least, spending on a better-quality player this winter will give the Orioles some better inventory to trade from if they’re not quite there yet by the July trade deadline.
What’s to come?
The Orioles and their 11-game losing streak head south to Tropicana Field for a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. They’re 1-5 at the Rays this season and 1-11 overall, so there might not be a worse place for the Orioles to be going when they’re already reeling.
After that, the Orioles get out of their division but don’t get much of a reprieve. The Atlanta Braves have been in the playoffs the past three seasons, and even if they’re underperforming some this year, they’re heating up a bit of late and are on track for another postseason spot. They could view a weekend against the Orioles as the perfect way to bolster their playoff chances.
What was good?
Severino had a disappointing first half of the season, but has been among their most productive and consistent hitters since the All-Star break. With two-hit games Friday and Saturday against the Red Sox, he was up to .306 with a .919 OPS and five home runs in the second half after batting .220 with a .619 OPS and four home runs in the entire first half.
“Sevy’s definitely swung the bat better during this last month or so,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s good to see. He got off to a tough start, had a kind of rough first half. I think he was just pressing a lot of the time. Got off to a slow start and then was kind of chasing numbers a little bit, which is very, very normal. It’s good to see him just taking better at-bats this last month, and the power is starting to show up. He’s driving in more runs, so hopefully he can continue to swing the bat well for us the last six weeks.”
Third baseman Maikel Franco has ended just 12 games this season with an OPS over .700, and none since May 1 in what’s been a very difficult season for one of the Orioles’ offseason free-agent signings.
He entered Sunday batting .214 with a .623 OPS, having hit .188 with a .546 OPS since returning from the injured list with an ankle injury July 24.
On the farm
Infielder Rylan Bannon missed a month with an oblique injury at Triple-A Norfolk but hadn’t hit well on either side of it — until this week. Bannon entered last week batting .133 with a .495 OPS and four home runs at Norfolk before going off with five in three games this week.
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He hit 7-for-14 with five walks and two strikeouts over the series against Memphis.