The future Orioles payroll

There are those who call the Orioles "cheap" because they didn't spend on a big name free agent this year.

Others say this wasn't a top free agent class and the time wasn't right for the O's to make a move like that.

Some look at the Orioles' payroll and see plenty of room for future spending. I won't argue that point.

I expect the O's payroll, which was reported to be about 67 million last year, will probably be in that neighborhood again this year.

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There are a couple of reasons for that. Keep in mind the large number of players on the O's roster that are first or second-year players and not even yet eligible for salary arbitration.

I don't have the exact figures but a good guess would be that Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, Felix Pie and Jim Johnson could cost the club somewhere in the neighborhood of five million in salary for the 2010 season.

That's for eight key players.

Add on guys like Matt Albers, Kam Mickolio, David Hernandez and Jason Berken as still lower salaried players not yet eligible for arbitration.

Now project a year or two or three down the road when players like Wieters, Reimold, Matusz and Jones will be eligible for salary arbitration.

This year, Jeremy Guthrie will likely see a pay increase from last year's $650,000 to around three million through arbitration or a pre-hearing contract agreement.

That's an increase of 2.35 million, and remember, Guthrie led the league in losses and homers allowed and pitched to an ERA of 5.04.

I point this out, not to knock Guthrie, but to point out how the arbitration system, which players are eligible for after their third seasons (some after two years), so greatly benefits the players. Salaries skyrocket upward through arbitration.

If Guthrie gets that jump after a poor season, what could it cost the club if Matusz, Wieters, Reimold and company all become arbitration eligible after big years?

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Andy MacPhail has to think about this. You and I don't have to.

The Orioles are enjoying having good young talent at a low price right now - but that won't last forever.

How much will it cost the club if the O's pursue a solid free agent at shortstop next winter? What about if they go hard after that so called "big bat" next offseason?

The payroll will be going up - there is no way around it and I'm sure MacPhail knows every dollar he can save now might help him some later and allow him to resign perhaps more of his top young talent two or three years down the road.

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander got a five-year, $80 million dollar deal this week. What if Matusz or Tillman or Arrieta or Erbe is Verlander-good two to four years from now? How much will they want in a long-term deal? Can the O's keep all of them?

It cost the O's $106 million in combined long-term deals to redo Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis. What will the bill be like for Wieters and company down the road?

Baseball players do make huge salaries. But most don't get the real big money until at least after they have completed three seasons. All teams want first and second year quality talent because it comes at a lower price.

That changes though. While the eight players mentioned above come at a collective low price, the four key players added this year - Kevin Millwood, Mike Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada - will cost the club around $25 million this year.

I can't imagine any fan wants the O's to turn into the Florida Marlins and produce good young talent, only to lose it every time a player is due for a long-term, big-money deal.

Maybe, the O's are "cheap" now. They can do that with all this young, not-yet-ready for arbitration talent.

But the bill will come due before too long.

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