The Orioles' main October pursuit seems to be finding a way to spend the significant amount of international signing bonus pool they amassed in part because of their July trades with the pursuit of Cuban amateurs Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr., plus their workout buddy Sandy Gastón.
But a second, longer-lasting effect of those trades is coming into focus.
MLB Trade Rumors this week issued their arbitration figure projections for players who qualify for raises in 2019, and the Orioles' relatively short list was notable.
According to the site's projections, which will be used as a benchmark across the industry and the media until real figures are agreed upon, the Orioles will be on the hook for $6.44 million in raises to a total of six players. (All present-day salary figures via Cot's Contracts.)
Jonathan Villar, in his second year of arbitration, would jump from $2.55 million to $4.4 million. Infielder Tim Beckham, in his third year of arbitration as a Super Two player, would be bumped from $3.35 million to $4.3 million.
Dylan Bundy, who made $1.64 million because he was signed to a major league contract as an amateur, would get his first arbitration raise to an estimated $3 million. Mychal Givens' first arbitration raise would go from the minimum of $566,500 to $2 million, while arbitration hearing veteran Caleb Joseph would be get a projected raise from $1.25 million to $1.7 million in his third time through the process. Jace Peterson would be owed $1.3 million through arbitration after his offseason contract with the New York Yankees called for him to make $900,000.
Those six players would account for $16.7 million, though there are a few nontender candidates if the Orioles feel they can get similar production for less money. Four other players are guaranteed money: right-handers Andrew Cashner ($8 million) and Alex Cobb ($9.5 million), outfielder Mark Trumbo ($12 million) and first baseman Chris Davis ($17 million). In addition to that $46.5 million, that group also has $13.5 million in salary deferred, though it's unclear how that's accounted for in the Warehouse, and the previous regime didn't really have answers on that front.
That means 10 players will make an estimated $63.2 million, and if the rest of the roster is at or near the minimum salary of approximately $550,000, that's roughly an additional $8.25 million for a total of $71.45 million spent on present major league payroll.
How did the Orioles end up beginning the offseason with a projected Opening Day payroll that's 48 percent of last year's ($148.57 million)? That requires going back to the July 31 trades of Kevin Gausman, Darren O'Day and Jonathan Schoop — all of whom were under contract for 2019, and in Gausman's case, beyond.
The Orioles entered the season knowing that if things went sideways, they'd be in a position to trade expiring contracts such as those of Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Brad Brach. Adam Jones declined his trade, but the rest went within 10 days after the All-Star break.
Yet the other two trades — Gausman and O'Day to the Atlanta Braves and Schoop to the Milwaukee Brewers — came right down to the wire. The Orioles got a total of seven players, including Villar, right-hander Luis Ortiz and rookie-ball infielder Jean Carmona, from the Brewers, and reliever Evan Phillips, infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion, catcher Brett Cumberland and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann from the Braves, plus $2.5 million in international signing bonus slots.
If there's not as much upside in those trades as you'd hope for controllable players, consider that Gausman was still owed approximately $1.87 million, O'Day $2.66 million and Schoop $2.83 million for this year alone, saving an estimated $7.36 million in present salary.
O'Day has $9 million in salary guaranteed for 2019 (with $1 million deferred, and the Braves took the total of $3 million in deferred money from 2016-2018, too), and the MLBTR projections have Gausman and Schoop expected to make $9.2 million and $10.1 million, respectively. Schoop's struggles after the trade and a lack of a role with the Brewers make that a steep price and opens the possibility of a nontender, but the Orioles likely wouldn't have been in that position unless they were particularly cold.
What the Orioles put themselves in position to do with that flurry of July 31 trade action was to shave an estimated $28.3 million off next year's payroll, and likely another $11 million to 12 million for Gausman's final year of salary arbitration in 2020.
But from a business standpoint — especially with next month's hearing on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network rights fees dispute with the Washington Nationals calling into question how much revenue the Orioles will get from their television network going forward — chopping over a quarter of their salary commitments off the books in one swoop makes things a little more palatable for the club. When former executive vice president Dan Duquette announced the club’s rebuild in earnest after they traded Machado, he said resources would be diverted from major league payroll to upgrading other facets of the organization, from international and pro scouting to analytics. In the nearest term, this is what that looks like.
Is that supposed to assuage a fan base that might be disappointed by the trade returns and is pinning its hopes on the Orioles signing the Mesa brothers? Certainly not. But the arbitration numbers estimated this week paint a much clearer picture of why the Orioles might have been inclined to make those trades.