With the Orioles’ recent additions of pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz, the talk of signing current players to long-term extensions has quieted a bit.
But those issues are still facing the organization, and now that most of the 2014 roster is set, the O’s may be able to turn their attention to shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose contract is up at the end of this year, and to first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters, who can be free agents after the 2015 season.
Here are some recent contracts signed by major league players:
* Robinson Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with Seattle
* Clayton Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers
* Masahiro Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees
* Freddie Freeman signed an eight-year, $135 million deal with Atlanta
* Homer Bailey signed a six-year, $105 million deal with Cincinnati
Will these deals impact the Orioles in contract talks with their players? Yes, they will, but so much comes into play in these talks - like how young the player is to start the deal and how many free agent years are being bought out by the club. All teams have to project the future here, both how the player they sign will play as he gets older and what the market might be for a player of his talent years down the road.
The Orioles signed Adam Jones in May 2012 to a six-year deal worth $85.5 million. That deal looks even better now that the Yankees signed outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury for seven years and $153 million. Ellsbury will play for $21.1 million this season and Jones for $13 million. In dollar-for-dollar value, the Orioles will do pretty well in this comparison.
Atlanta’s deal with Freeman was interesting for a few reasons. They guaranteed a young player $135 million. Freeman is just 24, but he certainly has not torn up the majors so far.
Yet the Braves see him as the face of their franchise and are paying for his peak years. They are gambling he can put up numbers like last season over much of this contract and also know he won’t be in his mid-30s at the end of this deal. In 2013, he batted .319 with 23 homers, 109 RBIs and an .897 OPS. The Braves, like the Orioles, probably will have a payroll in the middle of the pack of the majors this season, maybe a little above that. But like the Orioles, they are not among the biggest spenders in the game.
Over the last two years, while Davis has hit 86 homers with 223 RBIs, a .571 slugging and .921 OPS, Freeman has hit just 46 homers with 203 RBIs, a .478 slugging and .847 OPS.
Davis’ next contract figures to rank somewhere between the deal Freeman got and the one the Reds’ Joey Votto signed (10 years, $225 million) in average annual value. In average annual value, Freeman is at $16.88 million and Votto is at $22.5 million.
On the pitching side, the Orioles don’t have any key starters coming up for a new contract any time soon. But they will at some point, and the O’s already have two starters in Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez who have put up some comparable numbers to Bailey over the last two seasons.
During 2012-13, Bailey went 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA. In that time Tillman is 25-10 with a 3.48 ERA and Gonzalez is 20-12 with a 3.58 ERA.
But Bailey could have been a free agent at the end of this year and the Reds wanted to lock him up. Pitching is expensive and Bailey will earn $17.5 million on average during his deal. He is slated to be paid $23 million during the final season of that deal in 2019. By comparison, neither Tillman nor Gonzalez is even arbitration-eligible yet, and they will cost the Orioles about a combined $1 million this season.
So we saw the Reds and Braves both hand out $100 million contracts to keep core talent this winter. Now the Orioles on the clock.
Those are clubs with payrolls similar to Baltimore’s. Last year, the Reds’ payroll of $111 million ranked 13th in the majors, while the Orioles were 15th at $92 million and the Braves were 18th at $90 million. These are the clubs the Orioles can spend with.
Here is one way to look at the grouping of Hardy, Davis and Wieters: If the O’s can sign two or more of them to long-term deals, that is probably a very good outcome. One or less, not so much.
It will be interesting to see how this winter’s deals impact the Orioles’ trio.