About a month after the World Series ends, teams will either offer contracts to their players eligible for a raise through salary arbitration, or trade or release them if they deem that projected raise to not be worth it.
A set of projections as to what those 2022 salaries could be for the eight Orioles who have three or more years of major league service time was released Monday at MLBTradeRumors.com, giving a starting point for the coming analysis as to how the organization will handle these increases in payroll.
The largest projected salary of the group is Trey Mancini’s $7.9 million, up from the $4.75 million he made (albeit on a prorated basis) in 2020 and re-upped for again in 2021 after missing all of the previous season with stage 3 colon cancer. Mancini is in his third and final year of eligibility before reaching free agency.
Next is outfielder Anthony Santander at $3.7 million in the second of his four seasons of arbitration eligibility. He made $2.1 million in 2021 after losing an arbitration case in trying to make more.
Left-hander John Means would be in line for a hefty raise as a first-time eligible pitcher with an All-Star appearance to his name at $3.1 million, according to the projection. Catcher Pedro Severino, who made $1.825 million in 2021, is projected to make the same as Means.
Three first-time arbitration-eligible pitchers with uneven track records are projected to get into the seven-figures — Jorge López ($1.5 million), Paul Fry ($1.1 million), and Tanner Scott ($1 million) — while infielder Pat Valaika, who made $875,000 in the majors in 2021, is projected to make $1.3 million.
Those projected raises amount to approximately $10.8 million, which would basically account for most of what the Orioles are saving with the deferral of Chris Davis’ 2022 salary spread into the next two seasons.
They won’t be giving all of those raises though, and a variety of factors make that true. With six players who will need to be reinstated to the 40-man roster from the 60-day injured list after the World Series, Valaika could be designated for assignment and put into the free-agent pool. That would allow the Orioles to re-sign him outside of the arbitration structure, should there be mutual interest in him returning.
They’ve also jettisoned several players at or around the contract tender deadline who were due raises, beginning with Tim Beckham and Caleb Joseph in 2018, Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy in 2019, and Renato Núñez and Hanser Alberto last winter. With Adley Rutschman so close to the majors, a $3 million catcher in Severino who will be a backup when Rutschman gets to the majors may not be the most worthwhile expenditure for a team that will presumably still be operating on a tight budget.
Means will be worth more than whatever he makes, but the rest of the pitchers will be in tough spots leverage-wise. López’s high figure is based on his background as primarily a starter, but the Orioles moved him to the bullpen at the end of the season before he hurt his ankle.
Such decisions are never easy in any circumstances, as the cases of Mancini and Santander show. Santander still having three seasons of club control remaining means a bounce-back year on the salary projected could be worthwhile for the Orioles as he’ll have two more seasons before free agencyif they wanted to trade him.
Mancini, though, would be challenging a salary range for an arbitration-eligible player the Orioles haven’t gotten to. Like Mancini, they paid Villar $4.825 million for his second year of arbitration eligibility for the 2019 season, and when the projected raise for 2020 pushed to $10 million, he was put on waivers and eventually traded to the Miami Marlins.
Theirs are the highest arbitration salaries the team has given out, and in cases of far less substantial raises than Mancini’s, they’ve opted for a less expensive option and moved on from the more experienced player.
Moving on from Mancini, who by then will likely be baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year and has already made clear he’d like to be back, would be difficult for a fanbase that hasn’t had much to latch on to.
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It’s far from decision time on any of that, and the possibility of a labor dispute halting offseason transactions at the beginning of December could put a wrench into this as well. But for a team that has at times found the existing collective bargaining agreement constraining when it comes to keeping players due arbitration raises, it’s never too early to consider what could be on tap.